Social Media During a Crisis: Amplifying Information and Finding Truth


The impact of social media on mainstream news and offline media is never more prevalent than at a time of crisis. This is regardless of whether social platforms, like Facebook or Twitter, are responsible for spreading the truth, or a misinformed version of such.

According to an article from Mashable, the offline news media are not able to keep up with the pace of Twitter. This assertion follows the Boston Marathon bombings on Monday 15 April, when Twitter was littered with updates on the situation as it was unfolding. All new information, whether accurate or not, appeared on Twitter almost instantly.

Another example of social-news-spreading is the West Texas fertiliser plant explosion, which happened just a few days later on Thursday 18 April. This event saw a particular video circulated around the world by many, including major news corporations like CNN and the BBC. This video was a 55-second, mobile clip uploaded to YouTube by Derrick Hurtt, a local resident who was driving past with his daughter at the time of the blast.

This indicates that audiences are no longer simply passive absorbers of news, and can instead shape how it’s delivered.

Immediacy and access prevail

Conversations and content sharing on social platforms happens regardless of the attempted control of traditional, mainstream media. Boston-bombings

In the immediate aftermath of the before-mentioned Boston bombings, Boston Police Department were quick to enter conversations online, listening and encouraging users to share their amateur video footage of what happened. They used Twitter to track and correct the misinformation that media outlets, as well as citizens, were spreading. They were able to lead and connect with the community, whilst reducing fear.

Crowdsourcing content

In the hours and days following the Boston incident, the FBI encouraged crowdsourcing efforts when it looked to the online community for help in its investigation. Users of Reddit set up a subreddit dedicated to finding the bombing suspects. While this kind of speculation can be dangerous and personal views unaccountable, it was easy for users to contribute and provide information.

Journalists now rely so heavily on user generated content (UGC) that services like Scoopshot have been developed. Scoopshot is a crowdsourcing app that allows media companies to request photos and videos from users, related to a particular news item or subject, then reward them for such.

Finding quality in user generated content (UGC)

So we’ve established social media can often be the most effective news source for real time updates during a crisis. But in a sea of social content, how do you decide who – or what – to believe, share and/or comment on?

A number of tools have been founded to provide extra value to social media consumers seeking additional and accurate information, including companies that want to ensure they report only true content on their platforms:

anonymous-hacker-collectiveAnonymous: This notorious hacker collective recently launched a site dedicated to citizen-created journalism, collecting data and live streaming events “as they are taking place, instead of the 10-second sound bites provided by the corporate media.” Anonymous claims this service will be beneficial to their followers looking for a community beyond social media interactions. However, due to the anonymity and political bias of the group, caution should still be applied when sourcing information from the site.


Storyful: This site describes itself as being the “first news agency of the social media age.” It discovers and verifies content, providing accountability and truth at times of crisis. Similarly, geo-location tools like GeoFeedia and iWitness help to identify sources at specific locations.


Be your own news curator

Over two years ago, founder of Storify, Burt Herman, wrote in The New York Times:

“A new class of gatekeepers has arisen, people whose reputations are built on their ability to highlight relevant information to their audiences. We are still looking for the right word to call these new gatekeepers, but so far ‘curator’ is what appears most appropriate.”

Today then, we should be our own curators — consuming, verifying and disseminating what is accurate and relevant. Information is bountiful and easily available, but good reputations rely on users acting on the accurate alone. In a world of instant communication, we need to make a conscious effort to stop and think about what we’re writing and sharing with others online.

Further takeaways

  • Do follow authoritative news organisations on social media for up to date information
  • Do find a reporter that you trust, and share his/her updates with your fans – without your own commentary
  • Do suspend any automatic, scheduled updates that may appear insensitive and robotic at time of crisis
  • Don’t promote invalidated information
  • Do be your own news curator and share relevant, accurate information with your audience


What is your advice for sharing added value and accurate content on social media at a time of crisis?


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