During the terrorist attack on Easter Sunday last April, the Sri Lanka government decided to temporarily shut down access to social media to stop the spread of fake news. This episode ignited a wide debate on international media, opposing those who welcome this kind of measures and those who execrate them.
The truth is, people are confused about what the appropriate response should be in crisis situations. A recent Ipsos Global Advisor survey questioned nearly 20,000 people across 27 countries and revealed that about 60% of people think cutting off social media access during a crisis is acceptable. However, the same proportion of people (60%) said social platforms are a primary source of news and information even in critical occurrences.
Countries, where citizens are mostly in favour of a social media ban, are India (88% of respondents), Malaysia (75%), Saudi Arabia (73%), China (72%), and Great Britain (69%). On the other hand, countries where social media are most appreciated in crisis situations and Peru and Turkey (both 74%), Mexico (71%), Serbia, Argentina and Italy (all 67%).
Most of overall respondents (71%) felt that a temporary ban would not be effective, because there are many ways to work around them.
According to the researchers, the most important drivers which influence public opinion around this topic are the level of trust in elected officials, confidence in social media networks, and education. Slightly more than half respondents (52%) said they trust their government to decide when and if it’s appropriate to shut down access to such platforms in times of crisis. About 50% do not trust social media companies to ensure that information shared on their platforms during a crisis is factual. People with lower education levels are more likely to support a social media ban (62%).
Although fake news is a big, global issue, we cannot ignore that social and online media give people easy and quick access to real-time information in emergency occurrences, and they might even be used to support disaster relief activities. Some time ago, a team of researchers from the Pennsylvania State University studied how Twitter data can be leveraged to identify disaster-related events and generate highly accurate, real-time summaries to guide response activities. The group collected and examined more than 2.5 million tweets posted during major events between 2014 and 2015, and wrapped up that the best source to get timely information during a disaster is social media, particularly microblogs like Twitter.
While putting pressure on social platforms to work for fact-checking and information accuracy, business and organisations should not keep out social and online media data from their crisis monitoring tools. The real important thing is to integrate fake crises filters in those tools and provide Crisis and Business Continuity managers with timely, trustworthy insights about possible disasters and adverse events that might impact a company, its assets and business operations.