1. Participate in the flow of information

Information is crucial during a crisis. Those providing and needing aid are dependent on information to adequately determine what to do and where to go. As an aid provider present at the crisis site you simultaneously possess relevant (snippets of) information about the situation at hand. By spreading what you know about the crisis and the actions that you are undertaking and are additionally still needed you stimulate the information flow and help others direct their actions. Both individuals and organizations can respond to your aid efforts, but also those who are injured might learn where (not) to go.

Key steps: 

Spread information about your situation

  • Publish what you know about the crisis and the current situation as well as the actions you are undertaking: location disaster/ shelters/ field hospitals, nature, scope and magnitude of the disaster, hazards, number of people injured, the aid efforts under way etc.
    • Share real images in addition to text and voice communication
    • Be to the point and use clear language
  • Publish what you offer to others (e.g., shelter) and make sure aid seekers and emergency responders can find you.
    • Add a location to your hashtags.
    • Combine the geographical location/abbreviation and incident type in a hashtag that is agreed with officials.
  • Regularly send out updates: specifically address the changes in your situation and your progress.
  • Always consider which communication tool is the most appropriate, as the effectiveness of a tool depends on the type of crisis and the affected population.
    • Use the communication tools your target group uses
    • Use blogs and social media to reach a large group of people in a short time
    • Using several communication channels maximizes your messages getting through, since some communication channels might be down.

Stay updated about other’s efforts and relevant information

  • Visit the websites and follow the social media accounts of governmental and non-governmental organizations dealing with the crisis situation.
  • Follow the social media accounts of other individuals providing aid or (trustworthy) information.
  • Do not follow the social media pages of people claiming to work for an agency or of unofficial homes of agencies.


Ensure information is correct and can be verified

  • Add sources to your information, to facilitate verifying and fact checking, by including pictures and video clips to your text.
  • Emphasise the factual information, so people can make their own choices. 
  • If you are not sure of your information: report that the information you are spreading is unverified or not validated.
  • If your information proves to be incorrect, set this right by notifying your followers.
  • Connect your information to credible hashtags that are already being used.
  • If you retweet information from others, verify the original source.
  • Before sharing or commenting on information from others, use multiple sources to verify the information:
    • Evaluate the source of the information.
    • Corroborate the information by gathering new information and evidence through additional research.
    • Use various online applications to help verify information you receive.
      • Verify information through crowdsourced platforms that collect, verify, visualize data about emergencies as Ushadidi and UbAlert.
      • Verify information spreading on social networks through applications and web-based tools as Storyful and Twitcident.
      • Check the time and location stamps of content or authenticate images (e.g., conduct a reverse image search to determine if the picture has been posted online in the past) through tools as Google Images, Tineye and Izitru.

Stimulate and help manage the information flow

  • Utilize hashtags properly to ensure that your content can reach the intended audiences. For this purpose, familiarize yourself with the “Hashtag Standards for Emergencies” that are proposed by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
  • Use common hashtags that are being used by officials, or use a hashtag that is general but directed at the crisis, so others can use it as well.
    • Combine the geographical location/abbreviation with the incident type.
  • Share messages you receive through your own social media accounts, unless you are not sure about it.
  • If you notice misinformation, correct it and spread the correct message.
  • Add value to your messages to ensure they get passed along:
    • Add, if possible, a hashtag, picture or direct link to every message.
  • Ask people continuously to share/ retweet your information.

After the Boston Marathon Bombing a Google Doc was circulated on social media sites. In this spread sheet people offered up places to sleep, rides and donations, accompanied by their personal details.

The rumours on social media about a second perpetrator in the shooting incident (2011) at a shopping mall in the Dutch municipality Alphen aan den Rijn were followed by new messages correcting this.

There were also messages stating that the picture of the supposed shooter circulating was in fact not a picture of the actual perpetrator. This shows both the power of social media in collecting and spreading (mis)information and the self-correcting mechanisms at play.


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