Crisis situations create a huge need for immediate, up-to-date information, while the available information is always ambiguous to a certain degree. As such uncertainty and ambiguity have to be accepted and communication should be deliberate in a timely and accurate manner. Providing information and responding to citizens’ concerns of risk and uncertainty, regardless of whether the perceived risk is manifested, may ease uncertainty and supports citizens to behave in a well-informed self-reliant manner. Additionally, by dialoguing, rumours can be extinguished timely. Hence, do not wait too long before communicating to citizens and acknowledge to citizens when you do not know something. Be transparent and respond honestly to questions. If you do not know the answer, it is better to communicate the uncertainty of the situation and explain what you are doing to find out the answer than to answer incorrectly or not at all.
- Share factual information as soon as possible.
- Be transparent in what you do and do not know.
- Share information as factual as possible.
- If you share unconfirmed information, make sure that this is clear to your audience.
- Provide pictures and links if possible.
- Respond quickly to concerns and questions from citizens: state e.g., what can be verified and what not.
- Monitor what people are saying (about you) on social media, to be able to respond in due time.
- Act upon concerns from citizens by stating what can be verified and what not.
- Respond to victims’ requests for communication through social media.
- Create an online frequent asked question list and keep this as up to date as possible.
On May 2012, a 30-year old male threatened to cause a massacre in the Rotterdam Zuidplein Mall. The threat led to a stream of messages on Twitter, while the defendant himself did not use that application. Some Twitter users posted an old picture of police vehicles in front of the shopping mall. Other Twitter users suggested a terrorist attack was taking place. A number of shops in the mall closed their doors for precautionary reasons. The Twitter messages were also picked up by regional and national news media. The regional television station RTV Rijnmond even dispatched a live-broadcast vehicle to the scene of the event. This example shows that rumours can easily be considered truthful. Response and counter information can reduce the influence of rumours.