What Does the Twitter Chaos Mean for Disaster Response?
Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has drawn a lot of attention to the inner workings of the social media network. But for resilience professionals, the bigger concern is the potential disruption of a valuable tool for communicating during a disaster.
In an emergency, Twitter can be a vital tool to get messaging out to a large population on evacuation routes, available shelters, and other important information – especially if the disaster in question has taken out electricity and with it, other communications hubs like local TV. Its ease of use and capacity for regular and constant updating are also platform benefits for emergency managers who, during a crisis, don’t have a lot of extra time on their hands. It also gives them crowdsourcing capabilities from others on the ground in real time.
Key to this, as Scientific American points out, is Twitter’s Blue Check system that verifies that the information is coming from a trusted source. But the recent move to monetize the system to anyone with $8 has led to a series of fake and parody accounts – including one for the National Weather Service that tweeted out “[Not gonna lie] the weather machine is real. it’s in Norman, OK” that was even promoted by the platform’s algorithm.
Twitter attempted to counter this problem by adding a second “Official” checkmark, before halting the feature, and rolling it out again later, but unevenly distributed across various emergency and media accounts. Along with the mass layoffs that are leaving critical Twitter departments understaffed and raising security concerns, the end result is a sudden lack of trust from users unsure if they’re getting the right information.
If that results in people quitting the platform, emergency managers will have lost a vital communications tool.