How Social Media Can Help (Or Hurt) During a Hurricane

September 14, 2018, 5:39 PM UTC

In the wake of Hurricane Florence, retweets, livestreams, hashtags have quickly become part of the emergency disaster kit, alongside flashlights, bottled water, and batteries.

Social media has become a pivotal tool for people to monitor the storm, stay updated on evacuations, and to contact family and authorities. During Hurricane Harvey in 2011, flood victims ignited rescue efforts by contacting emergency workers via Twitter, Facebook, and NextDoor.

However, when fear and uncertainty are rampant, Facebook and Twitter feeds can become inundated with misinformation and dangerous hoaxes. People tend to check social media more frequently during breaking news events, and it becomes even easier for manipulated weather projections and deceptive survival tips to go viral.

To avoid this, make sure to get weather updates from the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service accounts. For those seeking updated forecasts, both of these weather accounts should be your go-to.

The National Hurricane Center, a division of the National Weather Service, publishes real time updates and projection models both online and on social media outlets. The NWS is also a credible source for up-to-date maps and evacuation alerts.

Although hashtags can be a useful way to stay up-to-date with the latest trends, verified accounts are a safer bet. Hashtags like #hurricaneflorence and #florence2018 are often crowded with armchair observations from voyeuristic users thousands of miles from the storm—few of which are helpful in the dissemination of emergency information to those in the wake of the storm. Instead of following a hashtag, follow a variety of local news outlets and verified government agencies.

Also, be wary of retweets on Twitter, and to avoid furthering the spread of misinformation, be careful of what you retweet. Be sure to vet the information you’re about to share—or simply rely only on verified primary sources for any retweets.

Rumors can fly at the touch of a button, so the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has created the Hurricane Florence Rumor Control page to dispel any false information being shared on social media.

The Washington Post has also been vigorously updating its tally on online hoaxes as the storm progresses. If you are unsure about the validity of an image, use a reverse image search.

In 2017, Jason Michael McCann tweeted out a bogus photo of a shark swimming down the freeway in Houston, Texas during Hurricane Harvey. The post was retweeted more than 80,000 times—and one year later he’s done it again (with more than 1,000 retweets).

This is an easy trick to quell any hesitations you might have about a possibly altered image. Chrome users can quickly debunk any viral image by right-clicking the photo and selecting “Search Google for Image.” Google will show where the image has been published.