Posted by: Emily Priebe | November 18, 2013

Combatting Misinformation in Social Media Crisis Communication

In times of public crisis, such as a shooting or natural disaster, social media can be an incredibly useful tool to communicate information to the public. Official channels like the Red Cross, police departments, and government agencies use social media to disseminate information to the media and the general population. But what happens when the public and bystanders of the crisis, who have just as much access to social media channels, start using the same channels to provide contradictory and sometimes false information?

During the recent LAX shooting, the public and the media were largely left to combat misinformation on their own (such as a parody account that claimed that a prominent government official had been a victim of the shooting), doing their own sleuthing to clear up misunderstandings. Still, those bits of misinformation can perpetuate when left unchecked by official channels, and seriously undermine the credible information that official channels are putting forth.

How can official organizations help combat the misinformation that spreads? Should part of their crisis communication plans include contingencies for misinformation? Should monitoring for misinformation be an important part of any crisis communication plan?


  1. The best approach would be one that funnels or “herds” users towards the organization’s official channels. One method for accomplishing this would involve partnering the use of Big Data (the collection of large data sets like those used in the Bright Planet article) to sort through the storm of social media output with a team trained to monitor, analyze, and identify potentially viral misinformation threads. Once these threads have been discovered, that same team could then reach out to their participants and direct them, along with their followers, back to more authentic sources.

    While this tactic sounds good in theory, it is also rather resource heavy, necessitating the search for a lower cost alternative for companies with fewer assets. Leveraging the crowdsourcing potential of social media in lieu of Big Data came to mind as one possibility, but given Reddit’s massive miscue after the Boston Marathon bombings, it’s obvious that this strategy also comes with some serious caveats. What do you think? Is there is a way to achieve similar results with less overhead? Or is this just the cost of doing business?

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