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Misinformation hinders crisis situations

Posted on March 5, 2019 by 40 Mile Commentator

Taber made provincial and national headlines last month when an Illinois man, who was eventually arrested, allegedly made 10 bomb threats to the community, seemingly just for thrills, wanting to listen to the police response chatter on an online app he accessed to listen to police scanners.

Multiple schools, a bank, a store and the community itself had a three-day span of uneasiness, that although all the bomb threats ended up as hoaxes, it nevertheless made for some genuine panic on various levels.

Targeting places where huge amounts of people gather, the perpetrator preyed on potential hysteria. Boy-Who-Cried-Wolf bomb threats are no laughing matter, especially when you factor in young children, the elderly and sick possibly having to be evacuated into freezing temperatures outside. But one thing that warmed up and was not necessarily a good thing at the time was information circulating around social media, not all of it true. Several conspiracy theories began to emerge as to the motive behind the bomb threats like red herrings to distract police services from a real crime spree that was about to happen, or illegal drugs making their way through town.

Another was posters claiming there was a bomb threat to a place in town when there was none, and spreading it as fact.
Given emergency crews are busily trying to insure public safety, being pulled into all the corners of town, spreading information that has not been confirmed and easily verifiably false, mere minutes after it has been released on social media does not do anyone any good.

Especially for anyone who may be reading it at the time of the posting who may have a loved one in the false locale, causing unnecessary worry. While social media might be a great place to catch up on your small-town gossip, gossip being spread involving public safety should be vetted carefully before being posted.

The incident also harkened back to 2016 and the ‘Killer Clown’ craze that swept North America, where reports of people disguised as armed evil clowns in incongruous settings, such as near forests and schools, began to pile up.

By mid-October 2016, clown sightings and attacks had been reported in nearly all U.S. states, nine out of 13 provinces and territories of Canada, and 18 other countries. That included one youth in Taber, with reports of a person wearing a clown mask hanging around a convenience store as traffic drove by.

A social media thread would later emerge claiming a school was shut down because of someone wearing a clown mask and brandishing a weapon — a rumour quickly quashed with a mere phone text/call from The Times to confirm that a training exercise was taking place for the police.

While having information at our fingertips on our phone has been a Godsend in some respects, in others, it can be downright dangerous if used improperly.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to inform your fellow citizen of what is going on in your region, as it has served many useful functions like travel road conditions in poor weather from people who have already made the desired trek.

But when it involves a highly sensitive situation, one must at least give a second thought before posting. A question one must ask is do you trust your source to be 100 per cent accurate in the information they are giving?

If there is any doubt, it is best to not hit that send button on Facebook and let those directly handling the dangerous situation issue timely and correct information when it becomes available.

Otherwise, it may help escalate a situation rather than the desired effect of defusing a very stressful situation.

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