Earthquake, Tsunami, And Fake News?

October 5, 2018

First came an earthquake—a 7.5 magnitude earthquake that hit Indonesia on September 28th, destroying homes and neighborhoods across the city of Palu. A tsunami soon followed, creating waves more than ten feet high and leaving more destruction in its path.

By President of Indonesia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Now, almost a week after this double disaster, authorities are trying to provide supplies, rescue those trapped under rubble, and rebuild entire communities. President Joko Widodo toured the devastation and stated he wanted to revive economic activity, something we often hear after disaster strikes. In tourist-heavy regions, disaster means that communities might lose out on significant income that comes from tourism, so governments often focus on reviving hotels and touristy neighborhoods so they can get back to business and start earning money again. When businesses earn more money, residents also benefit.

Disasters create challenges for any government, but Indonesian authorities are also dealing with an entirely new challenge: fake news.

By Basarnas personnel (camera holder) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Fake news? That’s right. Small rumors of another impending earthquake and tsunami started making the rounds. People panicked and started sharing and re-sharing the news, which spread like wildfire via messaging and social media apps. Increased panic can distract authorities who are trying to fix real problems. The Indonesian Ministry of Information and Communication sent out notes warning the public against believing fake news. Some of the fake news involved another tsunami and the president being killed in the disaster. Photos of disasters were shared on social media, but when investigated, they proved to be false or misleading.

So what are authorities doing? For now, the Indonesian government is planning to issue weekly updates so the public knows which news on social media is true and which is false. Good step, we think!

Have you heard news that you thought could be fake? How did you verify it?

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