Using #Mythbuster Tweets to Tackle Rumors During Disasters

The massive floods that swept through Queensland, Australia in 2010/2011 put an area almost twice the size of the United Kingdom under water. And now, a year later, Queensland braces itself for even worse flooding:

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More than 35,000 tweets with the hashtag #qldfloods were posted during the height of the flooding (January 10-16, 2011). One of the most active Twitter accounts belonged to the Queensland Police Service Media Unit: @QPSMedia. Tweets from (and to) the Unit were “overwhelmingly focussed on providing situational information and advice” (1). Moreover, tweets between @QPSMedia and followers were “topical and to the point, significantly involving directly affected local residents” (2). @QPSMedia also “introduced innovations such as the #Mythbuster series of tweets, which aimed to intervene in the spread of rumor and disinformation” (3).

rockhampton floods 2011

On the evening of January 11, @QPSMedia began to post a series of tweets with #Mythbuster in direct response to rumors and misinformation circulating on Twitter. Along with official notices to evacuate, these #Mythbuster tweets were the most widely retweeted @QPSMedia messages.” They were especially successful. Here is a sample: “#mythbuster: Wivenhoe Dam is NOT about to collapse! #qldfloods”; “#mythbuster: There is currently NO fuel shortage in Brisbane. #qldfloods.”

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This kind of pro-active intervention reminds me of the #fakesandy hashtag used during Hurricane Sandy and FEMA’s rumor control initiative during Hurricane Sandy. I expect to see greater use of this approach by professional emergency responders in future disasters. There’s no doubt that @QPSMedia will provide this service again with the coming floods and it appears that @QLDonline is already doing so (above tweet). Brisbane’s City Council has also launched this Crowdmap marking latest road closures, flood areas and sandbag locations. Hoping everyone in Queensland stays safe!

In the meantime, here are some relevant statistics on the crisis tweets posted during the 2010/2011 floods in Queensland:

  • 50-60% of #qldfloods messages were retweets (passing along existing messages, and thereby  making them more visible); 30-40% of messages contained links to further information elsewhere on the Web.
  • During the crisis, a number of Twitter users dedicated themselves almost exclusively to retweeting #qldfloods messages, acting as amplifiers of emergency information and thereby increasing its reach.
  • #qldfloods tweets largely managed to stay on topic and focussed predominantly on sharing directly relevant situational information, advice, news media and multimedia reports.
  • Emergency services and media organisations were amongst the most visible participants in #qldfloods, especially also because of the widespread retweeting of their messages.
  • More than one in every five shared links in the #qldfloods dataset was to an image hosted on one of several image-sharing services; and users overwhelmingly depended on Twitpic and other Twitter-centric image-sharing services to upload and distribute the photographs taken on their smartphones and digital cameras
  • The tenor of tweets during the latter days of the immediate crisis shifted more strongly towards organising volunteering and fundraising efforts: tweets containing situational information and advice, and news media and multimedia links were retweeted disproportionately often.
  • Less topical tweets were far less likely to be retweeted.

5 responses to “Using #Mythbuster Tweets to Tackle Rumors During Disasters

  1. The #mythbuster hashtag was also used in the 2011 floods (I was a resident at the time). They also released a terrific case study on their management of social media during the 2011 floods which is a great resource for any disaster management agencies.

  2. Pingback: Combatir rumores en redes sociales, #Mythbuster, VOST e información contrastada | iRescate

  3. Pingback: SMARMIE: Weird Name, Great Conference – My Notes | buridansblog

  4. Reblogged this on hurdygurdygurl's Blog and commented:
    We are experiencing extreme flooding in parts of British Columbia and Alberta, CANADA.
    #ABFLOODS2013, #ABfloods, #YYCfloods, #YYChelps, #YYConwards, #YYCzoo, #YYC, #Siksikastrong, #Blackfootstrong and other hashtags are being used on TWITTER, at this time, to provide accurate and immediate information and rally encouragement in the communities deeply affected by the floods, as was done in the Queensland, AUSTRALIA floods in 2010-11.

    Thousands of Canadian folks have been evacuated. Some folks are returning to homes that are damaged beyond belief. Insurance does not cover over-land flooding. Some folks have no home to return to. The Siksika Nation, the Blackfoot Nation and other First Nation reserves and communities are suffering immense and major losses. There have been human fatalities. There have been close calls. There have been miracles of rescue. There have been animal fatalities at the Calgary ZOO. There have reunions betweeen man and animal. There is hope. We are trudging the road of recovery and rebuilding our lives and our homes, together. We are moving onwards. We are CANADIAN, eh! God Bless Canada. God Bless the Queen. God bless the Commonwealth. Amen.

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