Have You Seen These

A New Form Of Twerorrism

“Verify twice, tweet once” is a mantra continually hammered home whenever quickly evolving, controversial or incredulous situations breaks on social media. But, an unsettling New York Times piece published yesterday reveals new challenges in “verifying twice”, and should be required reading for all communications managers responsible for monitoring social media channels during crisis.

 

Humanity Road on Twitter Verify twice tweet once - misinformation, old news an_2015-06-03_18-47-58

Trust me, I’m no Bob Woodward, having repeated/retweeted bum information over my social media feeds.  My gullibility and complacency made me an unwitting accomplice, sharing stories and statements that played on my emotions (especially stories of revenge or happy endings).  After being called out a few times I’ve learned a cynical approach to checking a stories veracity. Snopes.com is now my first stop when my internal b#$%&t meter starts beeping.  I also look for corroborating links, tweets, videos and still photos from multiple sources before repeating.  (Full disclosure alert;  I still occasionally get caught, mostly due to laziness and the seductive nature of wanting to be one of the first to spread a breaking story – something Chuck Todd learned the hard way a couple of years ago).

While I’m not naive enough to think that this is a new concept in government propaganda, I think the Times story should send shivers down the spines of all emergency managers, crisis communicators (public or private), public officials and CEO’s.  Agencies and companies are now subject not only to local and national bloggers with personal agendas, but also to sophisticated international social media attacks appearing as legit stories shared through legit sources, a form of “Twerorrism”.  The intensity and depth of the reporter’s investigation, and subsequent retaliation by “The Agency” is a sobering reminder of the dangers and depth of digital propaganda, especially by organizations and governments with deep pockets.

How do we combat “twerorrism”?  Some simple grassroots suggestions;

  • Start with the proverbial- If it sounds to good (or bad) to be true, it probably is.
  • Look for corroborating information from your legitimate and trusted sources.
  • Ask around.  Check with others you trust.
  • Dig into the background of the sources sharing the information.  How many followers do they have?  Who are their followers? What, if any, words/patterns/agendas strike you in their previous posts?
  • Images often accompany false information in an attempt to add credibility.  Google reverse image search is a quick initial way to check for an image hoax.  You can find the instructions here. Instructions on using Google Reverse Image Search
  • Slow down.  Do you really need to share a stranger’s “breaking news”?  Remember, if you are an SMEM’er worth your salt, you have a network of trusted folks who may assume the info you are sharing is legit. The re-sharing of bad information by your legitimate followers will likely undermine your credibility.
  • Correct it NOW!  If you unknowingly share bad information, and (hopefully) soon thereafter discover the information is false, send out a public correction ASAP!
  • Don’t ever assume deleting your incorrect tweet will make the problem go away. You’ll never be faster than someone with a screen capture tool.

Read and discuss the NYT article with your staff, focusing on the layers of sophistication in integrating and linking various social media platforms with false personal accounts.  Let’s hope our principles of free speech and expression serve as the most effective defense of all.

 

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.
  • Brian Humphrey

    Chief,

    That so many of us feel real pressure to be ‘first’ – or to receive the approval / acknowledgement of peers in sharing information, validated or otherwise (and sadly often not recognizing its clear difference from data), is IMHO a communication challenge amplified by social media – but with a genesis and solution beyond it.

    There is not only a need for each of us to better assess each crisis message we craft or share on-line and IRL, but more so to assess ourselves and our chosen audience to determine what genuine benefit we could offer them – rather than doing so for the intangible [emphasis] of being perceived as the ‘first’ to click the keyboard.

    None of us are infallible. Yet I see a profound benefit in first asking ourselves: Do all of my friends and followers *really* need to know from (or through) me first or now – and what is the real-world benefit to them, that there has been an incident, event or issue?

    All too often I see people rationalizing their answer to that question. The answer may be yes, but far more often no, especially when it comes to instantly sharing something happening three-to-eight time zones away, with no reasonable expectation that one’s audience at large [great emphasis] would, could or should be able to in some important way act upon that information in a timely manner.

    Yes, we have been training people on new and exciting tools to disseminate information for more than a decade. What we have been largely failing to do, is to help them better gather, collate, analyze, prioritize and craft strategic messages targeted at doing the greatest good for those with a genuine need.

    With the overarching KPI mistakenly seen as speed, and thinking that those curious for data are the same as those needing information, we need to take pause.

    My suggestion?

    Say aloud: “What good am I REALLY doing by sharing this right now with this audience. Really?” Then count to 10.

    Time has indeed shown that The Internets can wait 🙂

    BH

    • Bill Boyd

      Excellent observations and comment Brian. Thanks!

  • Tom Mueller

    Bill – Terrific insights here. Thanks for pointing out some easy ways to truth-check stories. This is going to be an evolving issue for corporations, individuals, and governments. Like we needed one more thing to keep track of…