Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter were awash with rumors last week as Hurricane Sandy smashed into New Jersey, and the spate of misinformation has continued into the weekend, hampering the relief efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Responding to this, FEMA has now set up a “rumor control” section on its website, which aims to highlight and dispel malicious rumors which are beginning to cause panic among those affected by Sandy.
FEMA announced the move in a Twitter status update, saying that “”Fema.gov/sandy now has a RUMOR CONTROL section for misinformation.”
The RUMOR CONTROL section can be seen on FEMA’s website, and describes how it has been set up to dispel the hundreds of rumors spreading through social networks and other sites. The agency refers to one of the most widespread examples of panic mongering, in which a rumor spread that it had run out of bottled water to distribute to those staying at emergency centers:
“This is FALSE. We are providing water to our state partners for distribution,” FEMA insisted.
RUMOR CONTROL also dispels widespread reports about the failure of the Old Bridge Township water system in Old Bridge, New Jersey, as well as another white lie doing the rounds which claims that New York residents are being handed out food stamps as part of the relief effort.
Social media showed that it can play a big part in keeping people informed of the latest updates in disasters like Hurricane Sandy, with both state and local governments using Twitter as a means of broadcast information about emergency services and measures.
Unfortunately though, there were plenty of people around willing to take advantage of the chaos and start spreading rumors, and in some cases, rip people off through scams.
One of the most notorious was Twitter user @ComfortablySmug, who later posted an apology for his numerous “irresponsible and inaccurate” tweets. Reports have since publically named @ComfortablySmug as Shashank Tripathi, who was part of the team working on the congressional hopeful Christopher Wright’s election campaign. Mr. Tripathi has since resigned his position.
Meanwhile, FEMA is continuing to use social media to great effect as it moves forward with its relief efforts. Those affected can follow FEMA on Twitter to find out the latest updates in their area, and where to get food and other assistance from organizations like the Red Cross.