As every social media user knows — even those who are only peripherally involved — the anonymity of the medium allows people to post information that isn’t true. On a normal day it’s bad, but not reprehensible. But in the middle of a natural disaster, those fake stories can divert valuable human resources from areas and people who actually need help. Throughout Hurricane Sandy, FEMA did its best to debunk rumors that started on social media. In fact, the agency has dedicated a section of their website to clearing up misinformation that could derail relief efforts.
Because so many people rely on the agency during and following disasters, FEMA needs to be a source of accurate information. In their own words:
There is a lot of misinformation circulating on social networks regarding the response and recovery effort for Hurricane Sandy. Rumors spread fast: please tell a friend, share this page and help us provide accurate information about the types of assistance available.
FEMA’s effort to dispel false information is a necessary move and sets an important precedent. The better informed those affected by the storm are, the better decisions they can make. Furthermore, because FEMA is spearheading the relief effort, their announcements are often considered the final word. While citizens should be able to trust the federal agency in charge of emergencies more than they trust “friends” on social media, the sheer volume of information, both true and false, can be overwhelming. FEMA has wisely created a space where those specific rumors are addressed, so citizens can determine whether the information read on social media sites is accurate.