A quick guide to avoiding hoaxes and false news about Dorian (or any other hurricane)

August 28, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

On Wednesday, Hurricane Dorian was approaching Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands as a category 1 storm. American meteorologists forecasted it would become a category 2 and hit Florida a few days later.

Just like any other life-threating natural phenomenon, strong winds are usually felt on social media long before they really affect people’s life. Hurricanes, just like floods or earthquakes, are commonly surrounded by hoaxes and might trigger the sharing of false information.

To prevent this, the International Fact-Checking Network has built a quick guide that not only can be applied to Hurricane Dorian, but also to any other storm in the near future.

The five points listed below can also serve fact-checkers around the globe who are not on Hurricane Dorian’s path but will need to report about it.

  1. Make sure you know where to find official information

In the United States, one of the best sources of reliable information is the National Hurricane Center (NHC). Its Hurricane Specialist Unit (HSU) maintains a continuous watch on tropical cyclones and areas of disturbed weather within the North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific basins. From them, you can expect “analyses and forecasts in the form of text advisories and graphical products” (in English).

The HSU issues coastal tropical cyclone watches and warnings for not only the United States and its Caribbean territories, but also provides watch and warning recommendations to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). A good Twitter handles to follow is @NOAA.

  1. Remember the closer a source is to the fact, the more accurate the information should be

Make sure you don’t share posts, images, or video or audio files without checking if the same content has been reported by a newspaper, radio station or website. During hurricane seasons, local journalism can be helpful in sorting facts from fiction. Build a quick list of major local media outlets on the hurricane path and consult it as often as you need.

The Weather Channel can be considered a reliable source for not only individuals but journalists. Keep that option in mind: @WeatherChannel.

  1. Watch out for old pictures and photos

There are at least four good, free online tools you can use to check an image and keep yourself from sharing something old and amplifying misinformation.

Google Image Reverse, TinEye, Bing and Yandex work the same way. You hit an icon that looks like a camera to upload a file, or copy and paste the URL to be verified. After clicking the search button, you will get a list of photos that look like the one you were trying to fact-check. This is when you can see if the image is not new. TinEye offers a filter that can be very helpful. It allows users to rank the results by the oldest, so you can tell when a picture was first available online.

  1. Fact-check what friends and family say/share

We usually trust our loved ones and don’t expect to receive false information from them. But it’s 2019. Doubting family and friends in a nice way doesn’t mean you don’t like them. Use moments like this to carefully teach some fact-checking techniques. Ask if they know who wrote the post or article they are sharing and if they looked at its publication date to make sure it’s new. Ask them if the same story can be seen/read in a reliable source, and get them thinking about what they are passing on to others. The Turkish fact-checking platform Teyit has created some stickers to be used in moments like this. There are some options in English.

  1. Don’t fall for common hoaxes while getting ready to leave home/find shelter

In 2017, when Hurricane Irma was on its way to Florida, PolitiFact and Tampa Bay Times published a list of five myths regarding hurricane preparedness.

That one about cracking your home’s windows a little to prevent them from breaking with all the wind pressure, for example, was rated false. By doing so, people only create more problems and probably let water in their houses.

It is also false that there’s a law requiring hotels to accept pets in the event of mandatory evacuations. Publicly-operated disaster shelters are open to the public to accommodate pets but that doesn’t apply to private lodging properties.

Experts also made two suggestions: Don’t put valuables in the dishwasher because they don’t keep water out 100% of the time, and only drink water you’ve stored in your bathtub in extreme situations. People don’t clean their bathtubs enough – or don’t rinse enough after a good clean.

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.