For all the blanket television news coverage of the Queensland floods, I hardly recall any practical information being relayed to assist those who become impacted as the flood waters spread.
The television networks were inevitably obsessed the human drama of it all, reacting to what had already happened in an almost voyeuristic fashion. Of course that’s what news services do, but shouldn’t they also have informative value?
Radio stations, particularly the ABC, did an excellent job in relaying police and State Emergency Service information regarding road closures, evacuations and other safety information. But as the tragedy unfolded it became evident how social media can play an invaluable role in keeping people informed.
YouTube videos of the horrendous flash flooding in Toowoomba were being memed across Twitter and Facebook before the TV networks were able to grasp what was going on. Then, throughout the rolling news coverage, the networks showed videos taken from YouTube and other online sources, often without attribution – old media was using new media, but seemed too afraid to acknowledge it.
To be fair, a lot of people were tweeting what they were seeing on their television screens, and quite a few mainstream media organisations such as the ABC and commercial radio and television stations were relaying news via Facebook and Twitter – some it more informative than was being broadcast.
As the above ABC News story shows, social media was used very effectively by the emergency services to keep people informed and is credited with saving lives. It also helped people track down missing friends and relatives and provided an indispensable tool to drum up volunteers and let people know where they could get help.
But there was some misinformation spread online; such as claims of water contamination and bursting dams and false reports about bodies being found. That said this sort of thing always finds a way into mainstream media reports in the haste to be first with the news. On the plus side the police were able to quash these rumours almost as quickly as they appeared via social media.
The key to using social media in an emergency is to apply your own common sense to decipher what you’re reading and where possible to confirm it via the radio or credible social media sources as the emergency services and radio station Twitter accounts.
And when in doubt, don’t pass on any rumours that you can’t confirm.