The Washington Post

How to use Twitter when you lose Internet access

If you lose Internet connectivity, you can access important alerts via Twitter SMS. (T.J. Ortenzi / The Washington Post)

The bread is bought, the flashlights have fresh batteries and you're prepared to make the most of whatever Hurricane Sandy throws your way. But are you prepared to go days without Twitter?

It's a ridiculous question that would have sounded even more ridiculous just a few years ago, but Twitter (along with your traditional radio) is an important resource for breaking news when the world is going... to Sandy.

If you lose cable, broadcast signal and Internet, you can still receive tweets about the storm -- even if you don't have a Twitter account. 

This also goes beyond Internet service. If you're without a WiFi connection, accessing just a few critical tweets instead of the whole stream is a good way to conserve your phone's battery and still get the information you need. It’s also worth noting that this workaround requires cellular service.


• You don't need a Twitter account to get important tweets sent to your phone. Just text the word "Follow [username]" to 40404 on a U.S.-based phone. For instance, if you want to receive tweets from @CapitalWeather and you don't have a Twitter account, text "Follow capitalweather" to 40404.

If you live around D.C., other Twitter accounts that might be good for this Fast Follow feature include @DrGridlock, @PepcoConnect@CraigatFEMA, @EricFisherTWC, @MayorVinceGray and @BreakingStorm. We've got a whole Twitter list here.

• To turn off this feature, text the words OFF or STOP or LEAVE to 40404. To turn it back on, text ON to 40404.

• Keep in mind that standard messaging rates apply. Every tweet is a text.

If you do have a Twitter account, here are the basics:


• Text the word "START" to 40404.

• Twitter will send you text, reply to 40404  with the word "YES".

• Now text your username to 40404.

Do not use the @ symbol. For example, @WashingtonPost would be WashingtonPost.

• Finally, send your pasword to 40404. It is case sensitive.

Now do yourself a favor and save 40404 as a contact on your phone. 


Text tweets by sending them to 40404. From Twitter:

@[username] + message - shows your tweet as a reply directed at another person, and causes your tweet to save in their mentions tab.

D [username] + message - sends that person a Direct Message that goes to their device, and saves in their web archive. You can also use M [username] + message to send a private message!

RETWEET [username]  - sends that user's latest tweet to your followers (also known as aRetweet).

FOLLOW [username] - allows you to start following a specific user, as well as receive SMS notifications.


The flood of tweets you receive after connecting your phone to your Twitter account might be too much for your sanity and your phone’s battery. To turn off Twitter notification via SMS, text the word “OFF” to 40404. If you want to pick and choose what kind of notifications you receive, here’s a list of commands from Twitter.

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