It was a week to remember–the bombings, the ricin letters, the horrific tragedy in West, Texas. I reflected on one important aspect of public information coming out of the Boston bombings on Crisis Comm on emergencymagmt.com and won’t repeat myself here.
But I’ve thought much about the dilemma forced on us by the now easy access to police scanners almost anywhere in the world and the resulting ability to share that almost more than real-time information through Reddit, 4chan and any social media channel. This is radical transparency that present profound new dangers to public safety through the remarkable ease of sharing inside information and misinformation.
Mike Anany published on Nieman Lab provides some very useful perspective on the terrible mistakes made by major news outlets and the good and bad of social media use during the bombing aftermath and the hunt for the bombers.
Everyone who uses social media during events like this–officially and unofficially–should pay close heed to the virtue of silence. Truthfully, I think official voices cannot be silent but they must be active continually during an event even if that activity is to say we have no new confirmed information but will provide it as soon as possible. The Boston Police Department’s use of Twitter was one of the brightest spots (this article on mashable provides the critical lessons to be learned). But while official voices cannot and should not be silent, they should be aware of the critically important role they play in providing the best and most accurate information. That entails knowing the inaccurate information that is being spread and being diligent and fast in correcting it. Given what is at stake and the assured spread of damaging or devastating rumors, this role becomes one not of “good to to” or even “should to do” but of true moral obligation.
But for us who have unofficial voices, the call for silence is to be heeded. The quotation from Gandhi that leads Anany’s thoughtful article is great to remember, not just in horrific events, but each and every day:
“Speak only if it improves upon the silence.”