Social Scuttlebutt? Be Prepared to Stay Informed in an EmergencyPosted on by
Social media has evolved into a powerful mass communication tool that preparedness and response agencies like CDC’s Center for Preparedness and Response use to share personal health preparedness tips and emergency response recommendations.
When there is a public health emergency, the information disseminated by CDC and its federal, state, and local response partners can save lives. At the same time that response agencies are sharing emergency information, however, other sources could be saying something different.
A report published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Social Media Working Group (SMWG) for Emergency Services and Disaster Management observes that “Rumors, misinformation and false information on social media proliferate before, during and after disasters and emergencies.” These types of posts can be intentional and unintentional. Inaccurate social media posts can range from outdated photos of past events to speculation based on incorrect or incomplete information.
The authors also offer guidance on how public-service entities can counter false information on social media during disasters and emergencies. While primarily written for public officials and first responders, the report’s findings and best practices can also be used by the average person to plan ahead for a disaster. Here are five ways that you can prepare your Twitter and Facebook news feeds for an emergency:
- Follow trusted sources. A big part of staying informed in an emergency is knowing where to turn for timely, consistent, and reliable information. Like and follow state and local public health departments, emergency management offices, and National Weather Service forecast offices on social media. A blue checkmark next to the name of a Twitter account means that account is verified; in other words, the person or organization behind the account is who they say they are. Twitter cautions that accounts without a check mark or with a check mark in a different location; for example, in a photo or as part of the biography—are not verified.
- Seek out rumor control. If you have doubts about the accuracy of information being posted to social media during and emergency, try to verify the information either with a phone call to your state or local health department, or by visiting their website. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) responded to rumors during Hurricane Harvey in 2017 by setting up a Harvey Rumor Control
Did You Know: CDC-INFO offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics, including Ebola and Zika. Operators are available to answer questions in English and Spanish Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern. In an emergency, CDC-INFO adds agents and extends its hours in support of CDC’s response.
- Look for partnerships. Hearing the right message at the right time from the right people can save lives in an emergency. Collaboration and coordination among federal, state, and local agencies are important to crisis and emergency risk communication. CDC will sometimes retweet or share messages sent by response partners, such as FEMA and state public health departments, to help spread the message. Look for this kind of collaboration when trying to determine if the information that you’re seeing on social media is credible and accurate.
- Beware of rumors. Beware of and help dispel rumors and misinformation, especially on social media. The administrators of some social media handles will take advantage of a disaster or emergency to spread inaccurate information on social media. Look instead for posts from verified accounts, like those associated with your state and local health departments and emergency management agencies.
- Spread good information. In today’s interconnected world, your influence can extend far beyond your zip code. For example, even though live on the West Coast, a social media post from your handle might make it into someone’s news feed on the Gulf Coast. Resources like the National Center for Environmental Health’s How to Help Loved Ones in Hurricane-Affected Areas digital toolkit include sample graphics and social media messages that individuals can copy, paste, and send from their personal accounts.
For more Prepare Your Health information, tips, and checklists, visit cdc.gov/prepyourhealth.
Thanks in advance for your questions and comments on this Public Health Matters post. Please note that CDC does not give personal medical advice. If you are concerned you have a disease or condition, talk to your doctor.
Have a question for CDC? CDC-INFO (https://www.cdc.gov/cdc-info/index.html) offers live agents by phone and email to help you find the latest, reliable, and science-based health information on more than 750 health topics.