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Guest Post: Hurricane Bawbag

Daily Record #hurricanebawbag Trends MapCourtesy of Carolyne Mitchell, who is a fantabulous Information Officer with the South Lanarkshire Council, we’ve been treated to a great story about the naming of winter storms. It also gives us the opportunity to see what happens in real life when government isn’t paying attention to the terms the public uses. With that, I cede the floor.

Jim’s Winter is Coming post about the naming of winter storms resonated strongly with us Scots.

Back in December 2011, Scotland braced itself for one of its worst storms in living history. The Met Office had forecast the storm and issued alerts. In Strathclyde, local emergency groups had been set up in most councils to discuss school closures, social care provision, flood alerts, road closures, tree removal and general contingency planning. On December 7, the day before the storm, the Scottish Government recommended that councils should close all schools. The Met Office not only prepared the public for the weather, the media was also prepared for a busy news day.

In the end the storm resulted in widespread disruption including 60,000 houses left with no power, travel disruption, storm damage to homes and cars due to fallen trees and airborne debris and police forces around the country had advised against travelling.

But the storm provided a challenge for emergency responders and many other organisations. As the social media lead for my council, I watched the day unfold and managed the council Twitter account from home as my daughter’s school was closed. By mid-morning the public had nicknamed the storm Hurricane Bawbag and it was this hashtag that was adopted by the majority on Twitter causing #hurricanebawbag to trend, not only in Scotland but around the world.

For those not sure about the Scottish vernacular, bawbag is slang for scrotum and is usually used as a derogatory term. It’s a mild swear word that children would be told off for using. Basically us Scots were throwing down a challenge to Mother Nature – bring it on wind, if you think you’re hard enough!

However, the police and most local authorities decided that bawbag was a wholly inappropriate for them to use on their Twitter streams and they, and the Scottish Government, went for the straight #scotstorm.

What did this mean? Well, most people were reveling over in the #bawbag camp with photos of the River Clyde bursting its bank in several places, film clips of journalists on sea walls just about getting swept away, a now infamous film of an escaped trampoline rolling down a street, an enterprising Glasgow T-shirt company printing #bawbag T-shirts before the day was over and American TV news stations reporting about Hurricane Bawbag without knowing what the word meant.

Meanwhile over in the #scotstorm camp, the authorities were publishing news of closed roads, closed bridges, how to report fallen trees and other important messages, mostly to an empty room.

And the moral of the story? Go where the people are – don’t try to shoehorn yourself into a hashtag of your own making because you don’t like the one that grew organically in the heat of the moment.

I recently spent a year researching the growth of the use of Twitter during emergencies by both the emergency responders and journalists in Strathclyde for my Masters dissertation. Although things have moved on a pace since I wrote it, it still makes for interesting reading. Lovingly entitled, From John Smeaton to #hurricanebawbag: The development of social media use during emergencies by Strathclyde’s media and emergency responders, it sits on my blog which sadly I haven’t updated since August, something I promise sort out asap.

You’ll also find me on Twitter and LinkedIn – let’s connect :-)


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