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113: Information

113-highway

Do you prefer small bits of information as an event is happening? Or radio silence until there is a conclusion?

Show notes and links:
8 battles fought after war ended (Mental Floss)
How false information spreads and gets corrected on Twitter (American Press Institute)
The power of one wrong tweet (CNN)


Full episode text

The information superhighway is one of those descriptive terms that is actually anything but hyperbolic. In the 1700s and before, it could take weeks or months for news to make it just a few hundred miles, much less around the world — which is why there are so many stories of battles being fought after a war was declared officially “over”.

When an event was happening, you either saw what was going on with your own eyes, or had to take the information as it was coming in, however it was coming in. The official or authoritative story may have been passed along from a storyteller, from a runner, from a legend, or just rumor passed person to person. There was still room for misinformation – and it was quite common.

Then again, misinformation is still quite common. The appetite for updates is very strong – especially in a crisis – and it’s one of the places that social networks and “citizen reporting” starts to shine. You can get information from multiple sources at a time, and often much faster than anyone can keep up with.

The problem with that is, there’s no verification nor vetting. The American Press Institute, in 2015, surveyed Twitter users and found that 64% of Twitter users said they’d encountered something on Twitter that they later discovered wasn’t true. 62% of that group said that they discovered the inaccuracy somewhere off of Twitter. And there are times – such as when the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked to post that there had been explosions at the White House – where there’s an immediate desire for more information, as reactions are already happening even when the information is not vetted.

Any good crisis communications plan will include a discussion of setting expectations. When the next updates will come, who they will come from, and how to know that they’re authoritative. The appetite for more information will always be there from those that prefer (or need) incomplete information, but at least setting expectations helps create the parameters for what is actually reasonable.