Detecting False Information and Hoaxes Online About Hurricanes: Dorian Was Just Another Example

Tropical Weather

Image Source: (NOAA Via AP)

As many of us know, advancements in the digital media world and technology has given us the opportunity to stay ahead/aware of natural disasters. Not only are meteorologists able to effectively track and study the path of an oncoming hurricane, but social media has raised an increased awareness for those who may be affected by the extreme weather. Yet, as more people begin to depend on social media and online resources to stay safe from these potentially fatal storms, many are not aware of the increasing hoaxes and false information that can appear online.

Wednesday, Hurricane Dorian was barreling towards Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a powerful category 1 hurricane. While most of the world was aware of this storm through social media and online news reports, researchers began to notice content appearing online that was far from the truth. Through popular platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram many people began to share posts, videos, and images coming from non-reliable sources. As a result, whether on the path of Dorian or not, individuals began receiving fabricated information about the hurricane potentially putting them at risk in terms of safety.

It is also important to note that media companies can also be responsible for these hoaxes whether intentional or not. When Hurricane Irma was on it way towards Florida in 2017 the Tampa Bay Times published a list of 5 myths in terms of hurricane preparedness.

“That one about cracking your home’s windows a little to prevent them from breaking with all the wind pressure, for example, was rated false. By doing so, people only create more problems and probably let water in their houses” (Tardaguila 2019).

Organizations such as the National Hurricane Center (NHC) are standing up to this epidemic, in efforts to encourage the public as well as local news sources to be selective on the information they are sharing about hurricanes, earthquakes, floods etc. NHC’s hurricane specialist unit constantly monitors potential tropical cyclones in the North Atlantic/Pacific region making them one of the most reliable online sources for information with “analyses and forecasts in the form of text advisories and graphical products.”

the-weather-channel.jpgThe Weather Channel is also advised for journalists and the public to use as a safe source to share weather updates and safety information on storms. Organizations like this are heavily involved in social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and even their own app which you can easily download.

Digital media has revolutionized the way we are able to track and spread awareness about storms such as Dorian. Now it is in the hands of the public and media sources to make sure they are not contributing to the problem of online hoaxes and false information about these potentially deadly disasters. When reported/shared correctly, digital media can save lives from these storms all over the world.






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