SOCIAL media in Tasmania proved itself to be more than a vehicle for sharing photos of food, memes and "selfies" during the recent spate of bushfires.
Facebook and Twitter were awash with danger warnings, information that helped connect family and friends and helped rally support and donations for those in need.
Among all the good intentions, some social media users spread misinformation about bodies being removed from burnt out homes and targeted one business with vile and derogatory comments based on unsubstantiated profiteering allegations.
Tasmanian Fire Service chief Mike Brown said the service realised during the fires that people used social media the same way they would use a phone or the internet to gather information.
He said the service's website, which provides up- to-date alerts and detailed mapping to viewers, received 1.5 million visits over nine days from January 2, with 120,000 visits referred from Facebook.
Mr Brown said the use and demand of social media during the fires had warranted deeper investigation on how it could be better used by the service.
"In the future, people are going to treat social media like a phone call and when they pose a question to us, they will expect a response," he said.
"Our challenge will be to engage more in social media and dedicate to it more resources and tools, so it is not a one-way communication of information."
The fire service, which has amassed 16,000 Facebook followers since 2010, was trumped by a page established at the start of the fires by psychology PhD student Mel Irons, which amassed almost 21,000 followers over 18 days.
Over that time, her page Tassie Fires - We Can Help received 264,315 stories, had 241,034 users click on page content and reached 1.6 million people through Facebook's web of connections between users.
Ms Irons said she spent up to 20 hours a day for 10 days posting information.
"The page worked so well because it was so current - I was posting every few hours - and it had links on it to key contacts and information to help people," she said.
Ms Irons said she owed the page's success to clarifying information and ignoring rumour.
She said she was told official bodies and traditional media garnered information of her page to react and cover the event.
University of Tasmania sociology lecturer Nicholas Hookway said the Victorian 2009 Black Saturday fires had shown the vital role that social media and mobile communication could play in disaster preparedness, response and recovery.
"It arguably helped save lives as warnings and critical information from emergency services could be shared rapidly, in real-time and could reach a wide - and often remote - audience," Dr Hookway said.
"In our current media age, ordinary citizens become part of the news production process.
"We're not just consumers of information but are also its active producers.
"Social media provided a key platform for organisations to not only share and exchange vital emergency information, but also as a way to make sense of the disaster through the sharing of stories and images, and I think importantly to mobilise community sentiment to help."
But as much as social media helped fill any information voids, it proved it could be a dangerous tool when used incorrectly.
Owners of a Nubeena supermarket were subjected to threatening posts and derogatory labels when rumours of profiteering proliferated through cyberspace.
The store was promptly cleared by Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading, but not before hundreds of comments were shared and spread over Facebook.
Many Facebook pages had hundreds of friends who were able to see these posts on their news feeds and share with their collection of friends.
One page that posted the allegations had more than 7000 friends.
Consumer Affairs and Fair Trading director Chris Batt said last month there was no evidence that the store's owners overcharged on items and sold donated goods during the bushfire, adding the owners had suffered greatly though being harassed and berated in person and on social media.
University of Tasmania senior law lecturer Lynden Griggs said social media was subject to the same defamation laws that applied to other media forms and publication.
"The same defamation laws apply irrespective of where the publication occurs," he said.
"The main issue in this case is that you can only defame a person - not a shop."Facebook adds layers of difficulty surrounding the question of the identity and location of the parties, but these can be overcome."