Countering Rumors: 3 Ways to Slow the Flow of False News in a Crisis

As many of you know, today is the 2014 Boston Marathon held in Boston, Massachusetts. On this day, most of us remember the tragedy that struck the city of Boston and the nation during the 2013 marathon. In honor of that remembrance, we are very pleased to share a guest blog post with you all today. Bill Salvin, a NarrativeTrack board member and investor, as well as President and Founder of Signal Bridge Communications, has written a wonderful post addressing the flow of rumors during a crisis.

-Carly Menacho


Boston Marathon

Today is the 2014 Boston Marathon, and it’s a fair guess the event will have thousands more in-‐person spectators and millions more virtual observers after the tragedy of 2013’s race. The sad part of all of the increased attention is that much of the information that will be spread about the race is likely to be false. Major events bring out pranksters, scam artists and hoaxers.

After the terrible explosions at the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon, social media and mainstream media were both  perpetuators of false information and sources of false information. In fact, there was more false information than true information during the first 100 hours of the event according to a study done by the IBM Research Lab in Delhi, India. The key takeaway is that only 20% of in formation in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing on Twitter was true!
Boston Marathon2For a good look at some of the most egregious examples of fake content spread via Twitter in the aftermath of the bombing, this article from is a great round-‐up. From reports of third and fourth bombs to misidentified suspects and false arrests claims, it was a nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction during the hours immediately the event.
Be Fast
Perpetrators of false and malicious stories use the chaos in the wake of disaster to exploit people’s sympathies. The damage done by those false stories is greatest in the early hours after a crisis when there is a vacuum of accurate information. If you start Tweeting right away about your organization and your response to the crisis, you can limit the impact of rumors and false information.

There are many great, free tools you can use to monitor social media in real time. I use TweetDeck and I have used HootSuite. There are also monitoring services that you can pay for that will monitor your social media in real time and provide things like general trends and sentiment analysis. There are also more sophisticated services that will identify rumors and suspicious stories and provide actionable information to you in real time. A company that I’m part of, NarrativeTrack, is one such company.

Counter Rumors Repeatedly

Think voting in Chicago, countering rumors and false information is something you need to do early and often. Remember that in a crisis, people come to the information from all directions and at different times. You want to be sure that the accurate information you possess is out there when people need it. You might need to put the same Tweet out every hour for the first few days of a major crisis, especially if false information or rumors start to gain traction with your stakeholders. If you want an example of what you should do on your Twitter account during the first hour of a crisis, you can read my previous post here. The sad truth is that there is no way to stop people from exploiting a crisis with bad information. Rumors have been around since the beginning of time and the social sharing tools available to rumor-‐mongers today makes it that much more important for companies and communicators to keep the information barbarians from controlling the narrative.

Bill Salvin
Bill Salvin is a NarrativeTrack board member and investor and President and Founder of Signal Bridge Communications

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