Hashtag Takeovers during Crises and What to Do About It.

Thanks to John L. Hart
Thanks to John L. Hart

Today I attended a webinar put on by the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) to learn how to use social media better during a disaster. Host Jennifer Lazo (@JDLaszo) related an anecdote that I think is worth sharing:

During the Napa Earthquake last August, ISIS began posting graphic beheading pictures with the trending Napa earthquake hashtags as a way to put their message in front of the most people. Not only was that disturbing for victims searching for real-time information, but it hampered the responders’ ability to monitor Twitter (which we consider to be an important part of our response).*

Fortunately, there is a solution: geotagging. Here’s a quick primer:

1. If you are POSTING, Twitter geotags automatically, though some users have turned off this feature for privacy reasons. In fact, I too, usually keep my phone’s location turned off. If this is you, and you notice that the emergency hashtags are being overtaken by malicious users, you can help responders by re-allowing the geotagging software. If you turned off geotagging in Twitter’s settings, you’ll have to change the settings. If you have simply turned off your phone’s gps, you only have to turn it on again to reinstate geotags. Remember, once the crisis is over, you can turn it off again! No problem.

2. If you are SEARCHING, there are two ways to use geotagging to filter out foreign malicious users. Unfortunately there’s not much we can do to avoid local vandals short of ignoring them (they die in silence) and/or changing hashtags.

a. First, you can use Twitter’s in house search function. Type in your hashtag search in the search bar up top. On the results page, there will be an “Advanced Search” button to the top left. Click that to filter your search by location (and other things if applicable).

b. You can use geofeedia. This is the one that journalists and other pros use because it searches all of social media–not just Twitter. It’s super cool.

3. It also helps to identify and follow quality Tweeps before a disaster so you have access to accurate information at hand during a disaster. See my post about that here.

* Emergency Managers like to monitor Twitter and other social media sites for a variety of reasons: 1. for distress calls which have been known to be posted, 2. for greater situational awareness as citizens post damage reports, 3. to learn of and boost other agencies’ info, and 4. to answer questions and dispel rumors. 

Further Reading:

  • Geotagging Wiki — a bit technical in areas, but a good pro/con read
  • Geotagging with Google Earth — Google’s help page
  • Geotag — “an open source program that allows you match date/time information from photos with location information from a GPS unit or from a map”. I have no idea how good or bad this is, but for the pro citizen journalist, might be interesting?
  • GeoTag Photos Pro — another app. Not free, but supposedly works very well with Lightroom. I have no idea if it’s  awesome or not
  • Geotagging #Ferguson article — interesting to see how information spreads and how clever people can apply geotags.

Got any more information for us? Share below!


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