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Misinformation During A Disaster

photo taken from www.gavi.com

As natural catastrophes continue to wreak havoc on people and communities, the propagation of misinformation has become an increasingly serious concern.

In times of crisis, misleading and false information may devastate people attempting to keep safe and minimize harm. Such misinformation may cause panic, increase the risk for those already in danger, and cause a lack of accurate information for those who need it the most.

During a tragedy, data may significantly impact people's mental health. People may feel overwhelmed with worry or panic when they try to make sense of contradictory information and discover credible sources. Fear of the unknown may cause emotions of powerlessness or terror, which can hurt one's general well-being.

Misinformation During Turkey Earthquake 

For example, for the past two days and until now, after the 7.8 earthquakes that struck Turkey and Syria, rumors of a second earthquake that will hit Lebanon and the Middle East spread quickly, making many people afraid of what will happen in the upcoming days. Rumors spread through social media in Lebanon about the possibility of another 7.7 earthquake, and called on people to leave their homes immediately, claiming that it was a statement issued by the Lebanese Red Cross. Immediately, the Lebanese Red Cross “issued a statement denying the truth of the news circulating about the event and wishing citizens not to contribute to spreading false news, warning those who spread it, and ensured that the organization will follow up with the security services to pursue them and take legal measures against them”. 

In addition to several fake accounts, one claiming to be Frank Hoogerbeets, the researcher who anticipated the earthquake, was spreading false news to get followers.

Another source of disinformation is sharing photographs and videos unrelated to the event from years ago or from distant countries, as well as circulating rumors about a possible tsunami via WhatsApp groups that are unsafe.

The internet has become an increasingly powerful tool to spread accurate and false information. People must take the time to fact-check and verify the accuracy of the information they see online before they share it or act on it. It is also important to remember that not all information that is shared is false; it is also essential to be aware of what is true and accurate.

What To Do 

It is even more critical to be conscious of the information transmitted during crises. For reliable information, people should depend on official sources such as local government and emergency services.

It is also essential to remain patient during catastrophes; organizations may take some time to react and provide a complete picture of the situation. It is natural to feel concerned during a crisis, but finding factual information may help individuals deal with their feelings more productively.

Reasons why misinformation spreads fast 

A reason why false information tends to travel quickly in times of distress has much to do with psychology. During a disruptive event, our brains enter survival mode, where we tend to absorb anything presented strongly enough ( even if it's slightly suspicious ) due to being unable to confirm things accurately at short notice. People look for cues anywhere possible (including rumors & bogus claims), hoping something sticks real.

To make matters worse, Journalists aren't perfect either, and any misstatement could propagate through social media, trapping many innocent minds! Tangible results would be psychological trauma and prolonged stress conditions ( PTSD often).

At the same time, Journalists should be responsible for their society and produce the right and trusted people sources to avoid spreading false information.

It's our responsibility to take action for reliable information.

Journalists and the general public may combat disinformation by fact-checking, validating, and relying on credible sources. They should also be mindful of the possibility of prejudice in the media and avoid spreading misleading information.

They should also report any misinformation to the proper authorities. Because what we post online has real-world effects.

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