Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn: Lessons from Hurricane Sandy

[Editor’s note: BuzzFeed just posted a note explaining that they have outed the Twitter user responsible for spreading this misinformation.]

Just before Hurricane Irene last year, I remember writing a post about how that kind of event could have a profound effect on people’s priorities. This year, the day after “Hurricane” Sandy, I can’t help but think of the misinformation.

Most of the day yesterday, I followed the coverage of Sandy on Twitter, diligently retweeting what I thought was pertinent information. While my Twitter following is currently less than 200, it still feels important that the information I share be correct (especially when it comes to events like yesterday). I like to think that the content of my tweets would be the same if I had 200,000 followers, but there’s no way to know that (without actually have 200,000 followers). Some people don’t share this sentiment.

Last night, there was (at least one) Twitter user who decided to spread false rumors. I don’t actually follow this Twitter user, but I did see a number of the reports that were *apparently* started by him. What possesses someone to spread misinformation during a crisis? I don’t know. One might try to develop some sophisticated argument tying the misinformation to a political gain, but I think that the threads of that argument are much too thin. The only other thing I could think of was the line from The Dark Knight: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

Some folks might put the onus on journalists who didn’t vet the tweets, which eventually led to CNN reporting that the floor of the NYSE was flooded. It kind of reminds me a bit of CNN’s misstep this summer with the report that “Obamacare” was deemed unconstitutional.

While there are these instances of misinformation spreading, there are also many positives to an instantly connected world (by way of the internet). For instance, when certain images were going viral, they were quickly shown to be fakes. In fact, both The Atlantic and BuzzFeed have posts showing examples of these from yesterday.

It looks like the internet makes quick work of fake images, but might still have a little while to go before it no longer falls prey to digital deception. In fact, Prof. Drezner argues that the internet does well with fast-moving memes (pictures, stock market flooding, etc.), but has a harder time with slow-moving memes (Pres. Obama was born in Kenya). It’s worth reading.

Published by Jeremiah Stanghini

Jeremiah's primary aim is to provide readers with a new perspective. In the same vein as the "Blind Men and the Elephant," it can be difficult to know when one is looking at the big picture or if one is simply looking at a 'tusk' or a 'leg.' He writes on a variety of topics: psychology, business, science, entertainment, politics, history, etc.

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