Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crisis Twitter for Dummies

Jeremy Stahl provides an excellent recap of the lowlights of raw reportage via social media in Slate.

The sports world lived (and lives) this up close during every major coaching change and when the fault line of high-stakes football entertainment that runs through Division I athletics slips.

Who remembers OrangeBlood's blow-by-blow of Texas leaving the Big 12?

We can clearly see the impact of social in real-time -- in fact, we can now put a price on it: $200 billion after the stock market dives with the Associated Press hack. There's also the malicious tweet -- Arkansas taking a threat seriously or even here at NSU where someone fails to spread a rumor on Boston bomb day about an "inactive" device found here.

Stahl focuses on Boston, but his advice and those he cites are great advice for source and reporter.

Having worked public safety crisis, public event warning and emergencies for public agencies, he repeats some keys.

Ari Fleischer gives a nice five point -- in two Tweets -- primer for the source, closing with:

For spokesppl, don't rule 2 much in/out. Wait till you know.

A different version of the FEMA/PIO training line: Trust in God; verify everyone else.

Here is where I differ with Ari.  When the maelstrom begins, sources need to speak.  If they say nothing else than to announce "Here I am. I am the official source.  I will get back to you when I know something."  In the extreme, being silent until sure leads to BPGlobal.  Remember these Four Rules.

Often, you do have basic information.  I think back to the LSU bomb scare and the silence from the institution which fed the confusion in the Golden Hour.  Nature abhors a vacuum and so do people. There are more of them than you.

In our bomb scare, we got active quickly and monitored to respond.  I still had citizens who were handing out rumor as information, and I had to correct it as soon as I could find it.  It happened during a 20 minute period I got off the keyboard to do some verification.  It reminded me of something I already knew -- you never leave a net uncontrolled.  That dates to storm spotter and radio operator days, but it is true in the social realm.  This is real time, and you step away from the crowd at your own peril.

It seems obvious, but many are oblivious -- don't let autotweet continue when the crisis is national.  Like having your flags at full staff the next day, bad form to be caught doing regular business.  That said, absent a national event like 9/11, life goes on.  During the Friday manhunt, we need to let people know that events are happening here on campus.  Frankly, for some, they want to get away from the wall-to-wall news.  Just be sensitive to the local impact of a major crisis.

Toward the end, Stahl points out some inside baseball, snide and snarky plays well on Twitter but sounds callow days later.  This is mostly advice for the journalist, but there is one part where sources can play a major role: shaming the inaccurate.

Stahl is advising his fellow journalists to NOT do this, pointing out in that "first draft of history" way that journalism works that he has been guilty of passing on unconfirmed information.  Pot, meet kettle, being Stahl's point.  And "shaming" -- Stahl's word choice -- is not the best way to approach this.  In real-time, getting accurate information out is critical.  Correcting errors, therefore, can be life-saving.  For example, if the bomb threat is for a building, don't send people in the wrong direction off campus.

Basically, that's the tack taken by Auburn yesterday over a long-developing series of accusations made by digital media.  We also have the responsibility for correcting the record, for making sure that first draft of history includes all the information.

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