Hall’s social media has seen explosive growth since he began uploading videos to YouTube in January 2021. In December, Hall went live on YouTube to cover a tornado outbreak that spawned two EF-4 tornadoes that devastated parts of Kentucky. Subsequently, Hall’s follower count soared by nearly 250,000 in just two months, according to social media monitoring platform Social Blade. In April, Hall announced plans to expand its ground presence as well, adding a fleet of storm chasing vehicles with colored and branded decals. At least one of them was spotted during Hurricane Ian.
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To date, Hall has accumulated 828,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel, Ryan Hall, Y’all and 1.5 million subscribers on TikTok. His YouTube videos, which have recently been uploaded about twice a week, regularly get hundreds of thousands of views.
Videos are fast-paced, filled with brightly colored maps. Hall has amassed a fan base drawn to his folksy presentation, with videos often going deeper than a typical TV weather forecast. Hall told the Washington Post that he uses a team of meteorologists, editors and writers to produce his videos.
Hall’s YouTube video touting a “massive storm” after Thanksgiving has garnered more than a million views. One commenter on the video described him as “down to earth and straight forward”, and another said his predictions were “more accurate than any local, if not national, predictions”.
On Twitter, where Hall has more than 110,000 followers, he describes himself as “the internet weatherman”.
Critics voice concerns over hype
As Hall’s viewership grew, some in the weather community questioned how he presents his videos, pointing to specific titles and images that appear to make promises not backed by science. Critics argue that when his headlines cross the line, they have the potential to erode trust in meteorologists.
Hall was also heavily criticized for the titles of two videos in August and September: “Here’s exactly when you’ll see snow this year (2022)” and “Here’s exactly how much snow you’ll see this year (2022)”.
In the online weather community active on Twitter, the title of the video about the amount of snow and the accompanying thumbnail drew strong rebukes from meteorologists and weather enthusiasts who argued that the teaser contained too promising information. A critical tweet attracted over 400 likes and dozens of tweet replies and quotes, argue thumbnail was misleading as it suggested some part of the country could see 4 feet of snow, including areas where such amounts are rare or unrealistic.
Using stunning images and trending posts to drive clicks isn’t limited to Hall – it takes little browsing to find YouTubers without clear credentials using thumbnails showing photoshopped hurricanes on land and on water. Without naming specific creators, Hall told The Washington Post that there are YouTubers who “heavy use of misleading titles and thumbnails.” but that he would not include himself in this group.
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Hall said his goal was to capture an audience that traditional weather news sources such as television, radio and the National Weather Service have missed. To do this, Hall said he uses “the same tactics” as other creators on social media platforms: flashy thumbnails, large blocky text and vibrant images.
“I, for the most part, just relay official information from meteorologists and government agencies that people need,” Hall said. “I just do it in a different way than most people have…seen before in the weather world.”
Still, some meteorologists are worried. In a recent podcast, James Spann, chief meteorologist for Birmingham’s ABC television affiliate in Birmingham, Alabama, and co-host of the “WeatherBrains” podcast, said the way some YouTubers draw clicks is inconsistent with his values. .
“There’s just something in my fabric, in my soul, where integrity is a big issue, and that’s one of the negatives that I see is having to play a game to be a YouTuber, to conform to their standards,” Spann said.
Although Hall acknowledges that weather misinformation on social media is a problem, he does not consider his videos to be clickbait or harmful and has even laughed at the reviews. He defends some of his most controversial posts, saying they get people hooked in a video that will include the necessary nuance and substance.
“The title was hook enough to capture the attention of people interested in the content of the video,” Hall said of the “Here’s exactly how much snow you’ll see this year” video. The video itself was “nothing more than a science-based seasonal perspective that explains La Nina’s averages and effect on our winters here in the United States.”
Kim Klockow McClain, meteorologist and team leader for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Behavioral Insights Unit, said the jury is out on exactly how viewers perceive YouTube thumbnails, research suggests that if people fixate on the thumbnails, this could be a problem.
“People tend to anchor their risk judgments based on the first information they receive and then update them from that benchmark,” Klockow said. “If the first benchmark is an extreme, even after adjusting for video content, their judgments may still be more extreme than the situation warrants.”
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Katie Nickolaou, a meteorologist and TikToker with over 478,000 followers, said she thinks the top headlines and thumbnails are catchy, intriguing and truthful. Headlines and images that don’t live up to their promises could have dangerous ripple effects, she said.
” Not only [the user] stop clicking on videos from this creator, they will also be less likely to click or trust videos from other weather-related content creators,” Nickolaou said. “This can be extremely harmful, as it can slow down and even prevent the broadcast of potentially vital data from meteorologists.”
Ultimately, Hall says, he and meteorologists — whether or not they use social media — are all part of the same team, educating and informing people. During impending severe weather events, Hall said, he shifts from what he calls a “weather entertainment” style to a more serious tone. Still, Hall said he learned from the fuss over his thumbnails, adding that some pushback caused his team to “re-evaluate our marketing.”
Hall said his growing audience has allowed him to grow his business and create more jobs for meteorologists. Hall has also helped those affected by severe storms, which he says wouldn’t be possible without the growth in how he markets his videos.
“I was able to give over $100,000 to the survivors of tornadoes and hurricanes by directly distributing supplies, money and even new cars to people who have lost theirs to Mother Nature’s wrath, and none of this would be possible without our modern approach to marketing,” Hall said.
“If this is all wrong, I don’t want to be right,” Hall added.
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