Emergency Management’s Fake News Problem

As someone who is comparatively new to the field of Emergency Management, it has been interesting for me to see the perspectives of others who have been in this industry a long time. I’m engaged in a number of groups on Facebook who specialize in Emergency Management and some of the things I’ve seen are troubling.

As a matter of course, we expect the public to come to us for clear, concise, and correct information in the event of an emergency. This means that we have a duty to the people in our care to ensure the information we are sharing is clear, concise, and correct. Far too often, I see Emergency Managers posting what amounts to political propaganda without making any attempt to ensure it is worth sharing. This point became acutely apparent when someone who calls themselves an emergency manager posted a press release that included words like “lawless” and “illegal” about an event that was happening outside of their borders.

This demonstrated a significant lack of judgment on their part, in this case they weren’t a source of truth, they were amplifying propaganda from a polarizing political party. There was no attempt to put the situation into an Emergency Management context, no conversation about the needs of the people involved in the event. There wasn’t even a link to a primary source so that people could read it independently and evaluate the veracity of the source, it was a copy and paste post.

When we are sharing information, Emergency Managers need to stay above the politics of a situation and focus on the needs of the people in the situation. If we expect people to listen to us during an emergency, we must make sure that we are worth listening to. If your social media feed is full of memes and jokes, how can people expect to find clear, concise, and correct information there in an emergency? I’m not saying that memes and jokes are bad, but everything in moderation as they say. In the same way, if you spend all your time sharing polarizing political propaganda, how can people trust that you will look after everyone in your care in the same way.

How to Spot Fake News

Consider the Source - Click away from the story to investigate the site, its mission and its contact info.

Read Beyond - Headlines can be outrageous in an effort to get clicks. What's the whole story?

Check the Author - Do a quick search on the author. Are they credible? Are they real?

Supporting Sources? - Click on those links. Determine if the info given actually supports the story.

Check the Date - Reposting old news stories doesn't mean they're relevant to current events.

Is it a joke? - If it is too outlandish, it might be satire. Research the site and author to be sure.

Check your Biases - Consider if your own beliefs could affect your judgment.

Ask the experts - Ask a librarian, or consult a fact-checking site.

This is not about a particular political administration, nor is it about left-wing or right-wing politics as both are equally given to their own types of propaganda. This is about trust in our profession, and the right of Emergency Management to be called a profession. If we want to be taken seriously, then we need to start taking our responsibilities seriously, and that extends far beyond those in our job descriptions. Does this go as far as a self-regulating industry body that not only regulates the use of the term “Emergency Manager”, but also investigates and upholds rules of conduct for those who have earned the title? I don’t know yet, but I do know that our credibility, that of everybody in our profession is at risk when we let fake news and political propaganda pass through our physical and virtual mouths.

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