Living in the southern Australian state of Victoria, we have all been watching with great concern the recent dramatic events occurring in our northern state of Queensland. Life changing events created by nature – phenomenal floods, some so quick they were described as inland tsunamis and others creeping slowly into Brisbane suburbs over a period of days. The result is that now I believe, two thirds of the state have now been declared a disaster area. For those of you not familiar with Queensland, have a look and see, that is an enormous region.
The night before the worst struck, I was watching the Twitter hashtag #qldfloods and was amazed by the traffic speed. It was such that it was impossible to read all the tweets (especially till I worked out how to pause a Tweetdeck column).
What struck me was the power of this communication forum – people were being warned to leave certain townships in the face of a “wall of water”. I wondered about the veracity of the comments and went in search of verification on other sites. Sure enough, the warnings were true and unfortunately the ‘wall of water’ did hit. Continuing watching, I felt uncomfortable and growing concern as the tweets chronicled the developing disaster.
What then started to concern me was the misinformation starting to filter through – warnings of damages, road closures, deaths that later turned out to be untrue. Tweets then came warning readers not to believe all the information – hoax donation sites etc. People were using Twitter as a forum to air their grievances and lay blame. Later on, after the worst had hit, Twitter provided (and still is) wonderful insight into the best of humankind, the willing offers of assistance etc – the stories of survival.
The conclusion I came to, is that as a society, perhaps we are not mature enough yet to handle the potential of this medium – are we all savvy enough to realise that we need to validate information, verify sources ? Why are there people out there tweeting and re-tweeting information that has little or no credibility? In most cases they were probably trying to be good citizens, feeling they are helping out by passing on information. Queensland Police and all media outlets have used Twitter very effectively as a means to disseminate vital information in crisis situations.
So despite the power of the potential of this amazing tool, I think we need to teach caution when it is being used in circumstances such as the recent disasters. The potential for information sharing by trusted sources is wonderful, but as with all use of the internet, it needs to be filtered.
An interesting summary of the use of Social media in the current disaster is available here.
The good – amazing potential for valid information sharing
The bad – potential for mis-information
The ugly – forum for nasty grievances to have a public airing