Attention to misleading and contentious tweets in the case of Hurricane Harvey

Abstract

The spread of false and misleading information through online social media is an elevated concern in emergency contexts such as natural disasters, where the on-the ground decision-making window is shorter, and the stakes can be particularly high. Misinformation that gets attention and is drawn out longer during and after such disasters potentially puts the affected population at additional risk. This research focuses on popular but ambiguous and contentious narratives transmitted via Twitter during Hurricane Harvey. Two most talked about contentious narratives consisted of (1) government agencies putting undocumented immigrants at risk and (2) decisions about evacuation. They depict the process of debunking, competing narratives, and political ideology that have kept the stories alive. Our findings suggest the following: that government and reporters play important roles in stemming the spread of contentious or false information; ambiguous and contentious narratives remain in the conversation longer, specific debunking works faster and reaches a larger audience than general or confused debunking; and the lack of coordination of messaging online and on the ground as well as among different government agencies may threaten the timely and accurate delivery of disaster responses.

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Correspondence to So-Min Cheong.

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Cheong, SM., Babcock, M. Attention to misleading and contentious tweets in the case of Hurricane Harvey. Nat Hazards 105, 2883–2906 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04430-w

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Keywords

  • Social Media
  • Disaster management
  • Hurricane Harvey
  • Misinformation