Strategies & Tactics

How to Act Responsibly on Social Media During a Natural Crisis

November 2, 2018

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In times of natural crisis, social media can be both a blessing and a curse.

When Houston flood victims struggled to get through to 911 dispatchers during last year’s Hurricane Harvey, they contacted authorities through Facebook and Twitter. And according to The Wall Street Journal, Florida’s tourism office sent targeted Facebook messages before Hurricane Irma to over 280,000 individuals believed to be to people visiting the state to warn them about the upcoming storm. 

However, social media can also spread falsehoods and heighten public anxiety during a time that already has people on edge. For instance, as Hurricane Florence approached the East Coast in September, Twitter users began spreading a fake story that “sharks had been lifted into the hurricane.”

“One of the pitfalls of social media is that anybody with a graphics program can come up with their own forecast,” said Chris Vaccaro, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service, in an interview with the Observer. “People take matters into their own hands and distort the truth, which just leads to fearmongering.”

It’s important, therefore, for social media users to handle their influence with care. “With each tweet and retweet you have power to affect events,” writes Emily Dreyfuss, a senior staff writer at Wired. “That has democratized access to information and storytelling but also contributes to information (and misinformation) overload.”

As hurricane season gives way to snowstorm season, here are five tips from Dreyfuss on how to act responsibly on social media during a natural crisis.

  • Think before you retweet, especially if it’s a report that seems incorrect, incomplete or outdated.
  • Beware of hoax videos and images; double-check who is sharing them and to see if they cite a credible source.
  • Share links to news stories — which are frequently added to as a storm progresses — rather than copying and pasting information into Twitter or Facebook. 
  • Keep your newsfeed full of reliable accounts by compiling a list of local news outlets and verified government agencies.
  • Don’t co-opt a hashtag; a joke could get mixed in with someone’s real-time storm updates.

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