Facebook. Like it or loathe it, it has made the world more connected. There are over a billion active users, which is over 16% of the world's population (Australia is home to just 0.33%). If Facebook was a country it would be the third most populous, ahead of the United States by three times.
The site has become a major marketing tool for small and large businesses alike. In the beginning, a Facebook presence felt gimmicky, now it is essential. Besides commercial entities, there are very few individuals I know who don't have a Facebook page.
Historically, we have developed technologies to fulfil (or sometimes create) a need and make life more convenient. When a machine comes along to do the thinking for us, we no longer need to do it for ourselves. It's handy, and that's the point, but that convenience comes at the cost of knowing how to complete the task on our own. I've discussed this before in relation to increased safety standards making us less cautious.
Despite the pervasive nature of popular social networks, evidence suggests that we feel no less lonely for our online interactions despite the fulfilment we seek (and think we get) from them.
Another major issue is the ability of Facebook users to maintain anonymity, which can lead to a lack of accountability or even identity theft.
While most major organisations, including our Bureau of Meteorology, maintain an active Facebook page, the social network also encourages "community" pages. The good news for the Davids, in spite of the Goliaths, is that Facebook's secret algorithm means that if a post is popular it will be displayed on an ever increasing number of users' screens. There is an almost poetic justice in the level playing field afforded to individuals compared with corporations. There are storm chasers on Facebook with more followers than not only the official Australian weather Bureau but Brisbane's most popular radio stations, which arguably possess the greatest marketing tool (a radio station) for generating those followers.
It's no secret that the Bureau have performed less than satisfactorily in the eyes of many Australians in recent years, so it seems only natural for customers to seek out alternatives. There is a thirst for more thorough and more accurate weather information and the lumbering nature of the BoM's development has seen a glut of independent groups rushing in to fill the void, and Facebook provides the perfect platform. Not only is it easy to set up a page, but Facebook's reach means it's also easy to gain new followers. Unfortunately, there is no way to validate the qualifications of such groups and we're often left with little more than the uneducated guess of an anonymous individual hoping to make a dollar on his or her page's popularity.
Our love of drama and sensation is not limited to the silver screen. There seems to be a perception that a warning of severe weather is somehow more valid than the likelihood of a fine day, regardless of the outcome. Sadly, some weather page admins are becoming aware of this and are adjusting their posts for popularity rather than fact.
So how do you spot an offending page? Not all Facebook weather pages are guilty of the above crimes. Some even have Bureau staff as contributors. Pages run by people who aren't afraid to identify themselves, particularly in their page name, are at least happy to admit that their information is not necessarily from an official source. The worst offenders are those hiding behind generic names that appear to be run by an official community group, when the reality is closer to one lonely bloke seeking attention. Their forecasts are usually so vague that there's a 50 / 50 chance of anything happening. They make uneducated judgements based on very limited knowledge and some culprits simply cut & paste copyrighted forecasts and weather photos from other sources claiming them to be their own. Poor spelling and grammar are giveaways, too.
However, hope remains that just as the Bureau cops its share of criticism, these offending Facebook pages will eventually fall by the wayside as people discover that sensationalism does not equal accuracy.
Marty is a professional photographer and avid storm chaser. The Amazing Chase is a quarterly column which appears in the Outback City Express newspaper.
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