You may have heard that there was a shark swimming around in a flooded highway in Houston. Well, that’s wrong, but it went viral anyway thanks to a hoax tweet. Similarly, an airport in Houston is not underwater, despite false pictures showing planes under water. And Obama is not on the ground in Houston feeding meals to evacuees, despite false reports.
Currently, in the face of the havoc wreaked from Hurricane Harvey, hoaxes are circulating like wildfire. The Washington Post counts at least 10 viral posts disseminating misinformation. Alas, this is something that happens quite often during these times of heightened fear. The Verge writes that natural disasters are a time when hoaxes are rampant because people are more inclined to believe the unbelievable and want to share information to feel like they’re part of the event. It’s a perfect storm, really.
Which makes it even tougher for tech platforms that are now in the throes of a battle against fake news. Indeed, Facebook announced just yesterday that it would not allow sites that repeatedly share misinformation to advertise on its platform. But even in these efforts to curb the spread of hoaxes and conspiracies, the content runs rampant.
Once things begin to quiet down, the Harvey hoaxes will quiet down, too. All the same, I’m guessing that the next time a major flood hits the country, a picture of a shark swimming in the streets will go viral once again.