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Twitter to the rescue

SAN FRANCISCO — As Hurricane Sandy pounded the US Atlantic coast on Monday night, knocking out electricity and Internet connections, millions of residents turned to Twitter as a part-newswire, part-911 hotline that hummed through the night even as some websites failed and swathes of Manhattan fell dark.

But the social network also became a fertile ground for pranksters who seized the moment to disseminate rumours and “Photoshopped” images, including a false tweet Monday that the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange was submerged.

The exchange issued a denial, but not before the tweet was circulated by countless users and reported on-air by CNN, illustrating how Twitter had become the essential – but deeply fallible – spine of information coursing through real-time, major media events.

Mainstream foothold

But a year after Twitter gained attention for its role in the rescue efforts in tsunami-stricken Japan, the network seemed to solidify its mainstream foothold as government agencies, news outlets and residents in need turned to it at the most critical hour.

Beginning late Sunday, government agencies and officials, from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo(@NYGovCuomo) to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (@FEMA) to @NotifyNYC, an account handled by New York City’s emergency management officials, issued evacuation orders and updates.

As the storm battered New York Monday night, residents encountering clogged 911 dispatch lines flooded the Fire Department’s @fdny Twitter account with appeals for information and help for trapped relatives and friends. (Reuters)

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