“Elk Bath, a 2000 photo from the Bitterroot National Forest, Montana, showed up in posts about a 2016 fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. (John McColgan/BLM Alaska Fire Service)

DHS to Publish Guide on Handling Social Media Misinformation During Disasters

A new report will offer plans, proposals and guidance on handling social media during and after disasters.

Public safety organizations have had to deal with workload spikes during recent disasters due to mistaken or malicious social media messages that sowed fear, misinformation and panic and overloaded communications lines.

The Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate created the Social Media Working Group for Emergency Services and Disaster Management for just that reason. The group received approval Feb. 22 for its upcoming white paper, “Countering Misinformation, Rumors, and False Information on Social Media Before, During, and After Disasters and Emergencies,” Nextgov reported.

Goals for efforts to counter misinformation, rumors, and false information include:

  • Improve the quality of communication through double-verification of information.
  • Remove ambiguity and uncertainty caused by misinformation, rumors, and false information.
  • Reduce alert fatigue and the risk of “cry wolf” scenarios.
  • Seek ground truth as opposed to assumptions.
  • Be swift in releasing accurate information or acknowledging the situation to help the agency work with a network of truth amplifiers and establish credibility early on.
  • Determine the relevance of social media information.

The report provides case studies, as well as best practices in the areas of people, processes and technology.

Recommended practices include:

  • Use Virtual Operation Support Teams (VOSTs) or other digital volunteers to monitor social media and identify rumors and report back to officials so they can work to correct it.
  • Actively tweet/post to correct misinformation/rumors/fake information.
  • Set up a central website/one-stop shop/portal similar to FEMA’s rumor control pages.
  • Pin correct critical information to the top of the agency’s Twitter feed.

The report should be available online within a month, Nextgov reported.

The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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