Misinformation Travels Faster than Fact

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Last Tuesday’s shooting, on April 16 in Hardwick shows both the value and peril of relying on social media in an emergency.

A post to the Facebook group, “What’s happening around Hardwick, Vt.?” inquiring about the wail of police sirens first appeared at 4:48 p.m.

Some responses to that post were simply factual reports of those seeing or hearing the sirens, police and Sheriff’s cars, ambulances, and a helicopter.

Some asked questions trying to understand the reason for what they were seeing and hearing. Those seem an appropriate way to share information with neighbors.

Other responses recognized the house where the incident happened as the site of previous incidents involving law enforcement officers. Those too seem appropriate.

Then there were responses that could not have been fact-based because later facts contradicted them. They reported an active shooter as though it were true. They reported one dead as though it were true.

Those incorrect reports, for whatever reason they were shared, served no useful purpose.

Parents of children still at schools, or elsewhere for after school activities, became worried.

Health care workers heading home at the end of their day became worried about their own safety.

People were concerned about the safety of their family members.

By 8:20 p.m., Hardwick Police had released a statement indicating, “At this point, it appears to be an isolated incident and there is not a threat to the public.”

That news seems to have traveled more slowly than the more frightening “fake” news.

What’s the appropriate way for a community to respond in situations such as this?

How can we avoid creating situations that cause unnecessary worry?

The answers may not be easy to find, but they must exist.

A resilient community should be able to find them.

Paul Fixx, editor

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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