One of the things about Social Media is that it isn’t always right.
I know this will come as a shock to some of you. But it isn’t. And it can become a life threatening concern during crisis communications. You know, for example when the shit is hitting the fan, in say New South Wales due to record early major fires.
Of course there are those social media expert guru’s (colloquial know as #smeg’s) who will say otherwise that social media is the be all and end all during crisis comms.
The type of people that run with on the ground “reporting” of an event, where rumour can readily become fact; heard third hand, or from a friend becomes fact, and where but it was on Instagram means it must be true. In the rush to be first on social media, the rush to get the most retweets “facts” are a secondary concern. #smeg’s think that because second-hand sources of information (such as councils) aren’t live tweeting an event it is an outrage, a tweet that doesn’t see fire resources sent in response becomes an outrage.
The rush to be first to tell something can get people killed. I saw and know of many reports of the Minmi fire jumping the F3 (sorry the M1 Motorway to those born post 2013), reports that were on both social media and commercial radio. Reports that, by the way, did turn out to be wrong. These were reports I had to tell a family member who was close by, no they aren’t real. Reports that if people reacted to could have caused stress, panic and even unnecessary evacuations. Evacs that could have blocked the roads required by the emergency services to stop the fire jumping the road. But hey, “I tweeted it first”, “I retweeted it first”, “I saw a post from a friend that said it was true, so I will share it so I can be first”, all turned out to be wrong. Funny thing was the ABC and the RFS didn’t tweet these “facts”, didn’t share this information, why because it wasn’t true.
Trust in an agency to get the information right and right the first time is important. This doesn’t mean being first as is the want of many #smeg’s.
Take Google’s Crisis Maps for NSW. They don’t just rely on rumours from social media; they rely on the cold hard facts from the RFS. (as an aside they work when the RFS servers are overloaded). Why, because they are the go-to source. Why didn’t the local council in the affected areas suddenly open up a twitter account and start tweeting? Because in this case they aren’t the go-to source. Certainly not, when they don’t have an established system, protocol, trained staff and direct access to the agency that is actually in charge, yes the RFS. And what info would a council tweet, the source info, the RFS anyway!
Now when the shit hits the fan of course the RFS are going to be slower than people want, why because they are fact checking before they communicate. An awareness of this small thing that seems to be missing from many peoples criticism of other organisations.
I know who I would retweet and share info from. I have a wide range of trusted sources, these are people that work for organisations like the RFS.
Yes, social media does have an important place during crisis comms. The geotagged photo from an event can help.
Yet being first doesn’t always mean being right.
The amount of times I have seen “disaster” photos shared on social media, that aren’t even of the unfolding events but an early and different event, or the reports of something happening, which isn’t are scary.
A social media report saying a road is open, retweeted from 3 hours ago, when in fact a fire is heading straight for it, could see people get killed. What if the RFS reacted to all these reports, sent crews to areas they were not needed, because social media said so and people got killed. What will the #smeg’s reaction be then…