Lake Tahoe weather: What to know about storm updates on social media
January 17, 2017
TAHOE-TRUCKEE, Calif. — It may have taken some people a bit longer than others to wake up and realize social media has changed everything, but after the recent election I think it's safe to say no one can doubt the power of Facebook.
Despite my current position as a newspaper reporter, you won't catch me trying to hand in my millennial card anytime soon. If there's one thing I've stressed since joining the team at the Sierra Sun this past summer, it's that we need to do more to utilize our social media accounts to both inform communities around the lake and encourage audience engagement.
I've seen local resorts, marketing teams and even government agencies slowly come around to that approach, too. And I think it's great, for the most part. If I can share a post from Caltrans or the California Highway Patrol that might help our followers with their commute, I'm happy to do so.
But not everything is so simple.
When a utility company or government agency posts an update to social media, be it Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, that update no longer appears at the top of a list for all followers to see. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter have all now replaced that format with a mysterious algorithm — and have refused to publicly explain how that algorithm works. In other words, you see some posts from your friends and people you follow, but not all of them, and you can't always control which ones.
We don't know how social media sites choose what you see and what you don't. It isn't in chronological order, so if you've been without power for four days and you see a post about the power outage, it might actually be from a few days earlier. Sure, you could check the timestamp on the post or read the comments on it, but lots of people don't do that before sharing information online, and as a result, misinformation and outdated information spreads.
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One thing we do know for sure about social media, especially in the news business, is that posts with lots of comments and shares do appear more frequently in peoples' individual timelines.
That's a problem, because viral content is usually sensational, and often untrue. A blogger who doesn't fact check his or her post will often get more traffic on Facebook than the stories that are accurate. A resort that reports it received 24 inches of snow will usually get more traffic on its post, than a newspaper that accurately reports they only got 12.
For example, a photo of multiple feet of snowfall made its rounds on social media after last week's storm, garnering millions of likes and shares. There was just one problem: That photo wasn't taken anywhere near Lake Tahoe, but in Europe. Another viral photo was taken in the Tahoe area, but it was from a storm in 2011. Despite multiple reporters calling out the fake image, and other people mentioning this in the comments sections of the posts, the fake photos continue to get far more attention than any of the accurate reports.
That's why local government agencies can't just post updates in an emergency situation to their Facebook page — they also need to be in contact with news reporters. It can be challenging for people to keep track of multiple sources, like CHP, Caltrans and cellphone and utility companies, in an emergency situation.
At the Sierra Sun, we tried our best to wrangle up all of the updates and put them in one place, but it was challenging since some agencies were more on top of sending us updates than others. I can tell you from personal experience, that even if you follow every single department, district and agency, and monitor social media all day, you still won't see everything.
You can take steps to make sure our posts actually show up in your newsfeed, too. On Twitter, you can follow my personal account @akrhoades and the Sierra Sun's account @SierraSun_News to receive local news updates. To make sure you see our posts, go to our profile and click the picture of a bell if you're on a mobile device. It'll reveal a menu where you can choose what kind of notifications you receive, and if you select "All Tweets" you'll receive a notification every time we post something.
To do this from a desktop computer, simply click on the gear that's next to the "Follow" button. It'll reveal a drop down menu, and selecting the second option from the bottom will "Turn on mobile notifications."
Facebook is a good alternative if you don't want to be notified of every post, but still want to make sure you're seeing what we put on social media. If you visit the Sierra Sun's Facebook page, you can click on the "Following" button and select how you'd like to receive our updates. Click "Show First" to make sure you always see our updates in your newsfeed.
At the end of the day, social media is definitely a powerful tool to get your information and engage with your neighbors — just make sure you know how it works.