Beware Social Media As “News”

According to recent research, one in 10 Americans are getting their news from Twitter, while four in 10 are getting it from Facebook. In a study of more than 2,000 Americans conducted by the Pew Research Center, 63% of users surveyed said they were getting there news from Twitter and Facebook. It also reports with 66% of US adults currently using Facebook and 17% using Twitter. These statistics, however, present a security concern that many users may not consider.

Social Media are instant and frequently unconfirmed sources of information. Because of these factors, they are easily capable of spreading fear and panic through false reporting. In cyber, we call this Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD). Erroneous reports of natural disasters, cyber-attacks, accidents, hazards, or even terrorist attacks, for example, have the potential of spreading FUD simply by the rate of information sharing social media provides. An example of this during Hurricane Sandy. A man began tweeting reports of destruction, power outages, flooding, etc to his 6,500 followers. These tweets created confusion and panic. Two of his reports were retweeted 500 times. The false reports reached tens of thousands of twitter users within hours and even lead to news outlets reporting (then having to retract) the made up information.

The rogue tweeter during Sandy was not an isolated case. For the past several years, the Russian government has run a group called the Internet Research Agency. This group employs dozens of cheap social media users to create and launch fake crises. They recently executed a fake chemical spill and explosion in a Louisiana township that caused residents to shelter, scramble to protect their families, and spend county resources responding to a non-event. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

To protect yourself from false reporting and unnecessary fear and panic, Maverick offers some recommendations. While not a silver bullet solution, the following tips will help: 1)use valid news outlets as primary sources. 2)know your state, county, and municipal social media sources and use them for primary reporting as well. 3)always attempt to validate primary source reporting by corroborating reporting with other primary sources. 4)know and use local alerting systems if available, especially in places you travel. These will provide immediate and accurate alerts directly to your mobile devices. 5)keep contact information for local municipal services (such as law enforcement, fire, and EMS).

Social media can be a powerful information and safety asset when a disaster or emergency occurs, but only if used responsibly. No amount of technology can replace being smart and vigilant. You must look out for the safety of yourself and your loved ones. As a non-attributable, frequently unverified source of information, social media should never be solely relied upon as an information source. Use multiple, trusted public resources to verify and corroborate emergency situations and local hazards. As always, if you have any questions or require further assistance, contact your Maverick personal cyber-security concierge.