India and the world are holding their breath waiting for the super-cyclone Phailin to hit land. The storm has strengthened at one of the fastest rates ever recorded, going from a tropical storm to a category 4 cyclone in only 24 hours. On Friday (Oct. 11), it became the equivalent of a category 5 hurricane—the strongest on the American scale—with sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph). That official wind speed has tied Phailin with the devastating 1999 Orissa Cyclone which killed more than 10,000 people—currently India’s strongest storm ever. Cyclones in India are the same as hurricanes in the United States — different words for the same thing – as reported by ‏@EricHolthaus Lead Meteorologist & Weather Editor for@weathermob & @qz.

The image above shows the storm’s core as it approaches the coastline.

The image above shows the storm’s core as it approaches the coastline.

In Twitterverse, #Phailin is trending and I have been following this hashtag since the last two days. I am from Orissa – the state which is expected to bear the brunt of this cyclone. I am at a distance from all of my loved ones back at home and thanks to Social Media can get live updates from people on the ground and the experts. Social media has expanded our worlds allowing us to access firsthand accounts, share worries and express our faith and solidarity in the face of tragedies. Smartphones and platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow us to “be there” while not being there. It becomes important then to be more aware of our roles and words on these platforms – to be responsible world citizens.

As I read through all the tweets and posts (most of it useful), what strikes me and makes me angry is the sheer stupidity and insensitivity of some of the tweets. Tragedies are personal and it could be difficult for some people to “get that” sitting at a distance. We saw this happen during the Tsunami in Japan and other major events since social media became popular. Though this post, I want to spread the word to be kind, be sensible, be sensitive and be responsible in the way we use social media in the face of such events. Since I am more of a twitter user, I take some tweets from the past 48 hours as examples of what not to say or do during an impending crisis:

1)      Rumour Mongering: It is scary enough already, do you really need to add to the stress ?

2)      Callous Humour:  Humour is good, but seriously ? Talk about bad timing

3)      Politicize: Now is not the time to add politics to the mix, definitely.

4)      Heckle and Hate: I hate you, too, thank you. Please stop this nonsense.

5)      Advocacy and One Up-Manship: Yes, we know you have a Cause. But can you please get down from your platform for now ?

To sum it up, if you don’t have something useful to say or share – Don’t. Let’s cut the noise and allow the information to filter though.

My thoughts and prayers with the people on the east coast of India. And gratitude for the administration, army and volunteers braving it on the ground for crisis management. Let’s hope this will indeed turn out to be a zero casualty event and not a tragedy.

Picture courtesy – https://twitter.com/EricHolthaus

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