Social media goes into overdrive during large-scale events – whether that’s a sporting match, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack. It can be of tremendous help, but it can also cause problems.
The speed of the internet allowed up to the minute details of yesterday’s attack in London to be quickly broadcast. It also meant individuals were able to let their loved ones know they were safe. Using the internet to do that can be faster and more effective than calling or texting as the ‘bandwidth’ for the voice calls will be needed by emergency responders.
The downside: it also allows the easy sharing of rumours and speculation. That can lead to confusion and the wrong people being identified. That turns into witch hunts, and ruins lives, both the accused and the accusers. In the recent past, people have been prosecuted for spreading ‘witch hunt’ type rumours over the internet.
When terror attacks happen, it’s all too easy to let your heart lead instead of your head. You’ll find pages on Facebook specifically set up to take advantage of this. Clickbait sites can quickly gather followers and popularity by posting images that speak to your emotions. “Share this photo to show respect / catch the killer” is a common approach. They tug at your heartstrings and hope you’ll share it without a second thought.
That is exactly what they want. It leads to false information being spread, the vilification of specific groups of people and of course it raises that page’s profile. Clickbait pages can take you to other suspect sites, generating revenue for them, and could compromise your profile information.
A good example: the right-wing group, Britain First has been using the image of the murdered soldier, Lee Rigby, on its social media platforms to further their cause. This is in spite of repeated requests from his family to stop using his name and image to fuel their agenda.
Even high-profile media sources can get it wrong sometimes. So unless you’re 100% certain you can trust the source (and maybe verify elsewhere), just scroll on by and don’t share the information.
Buzzfeed has published an article about the misinformation spreading online about this attack which is worth a read.
In distressing times, don’t let the bad guys win, you could be doing more harm than good.