Facebook is trusted in a crisis situation if the information source is credible

Public property was burnt down during violence. 
Maryland: When caste-based arson and violence broke out in the northern Indian state of Haryana in February this year, the law enforcement authorities were quick to shut down internet services on mobile devices in the region. 

The rationale given behind shutting down web services was that rumors and misinformation spread on social networking sites could add fuel to the fire, thus escalating violence and further complicating the law and order situation. 

While it remains debatable whether the embargo helped in containing violence and ensuring flow of credible information, the case in point illustrates the influence social networking sites wield on people's lives, particularly in crisis situations.

                                                                                             (video credit: INDIA TODAY TV)


Social media is like a double-edged sword due to the trust it enjoys among users, thereby lending it the potential for being misused during social strife.

Senior Haryana state police official, Shatrujeet Kapoor who monitored the law and order situation during the violent agitation is of the view that social media is like a double-edged sword. “It has a potential of being misused,” he says. Asked whether shutting down internet services on mobile devices helped the situation, he says that during a law and order situation, rumor mongering and spread of misinformation is common. “We had shut down internet services on mobile devices to ensure that pictures are not shared on social networking sites and transmission of messages in bulk from mobile applications such as Whatsapp gets restricted. This definitely helped in containing the spread of rumors,” he says.
A civil administration official who monitored the situation says that there was another reason for shutting down internet services. 
“There is a high level of trust associated with social networking sites. People easily believe the content floating on social media, including Whatsapp, without realizing that many of the graphic content is morphed or engineered. And the administration does not have a strong presence on social media to counter misinformation or propaganda,” the officer says.
Essentially, both officers point to the fact that there is considerable trust in social media among people, even during crisis situations.

Read: Social media often inflame complex crisis situations

Did the blocking of internet service by the cops helped ?  (Pix credit: Manoj Dhaka/HT )

Army was called in after the state govt failed to control the rioters.  (Pix credit: Manoj Dhaka/HT)

European study shows that users trust Facebook during crisis situations

A January 2016 study conducted by the Department of Health and Prevention, University of Greifswald, Germany, “Trusting Facebook in Crisis Situations: The Role of General Use and General Trust Toward Facebook”, has found that participants’ general trust toward Facebook (FB) as a medium predicted to a significant degree how much they would trust the Facebook in a crisis situation.  
The general use of FB and dispositional trust were also significantly associated with trust toward FB in a crisis situation. A sample of 340 European FB users was questioned as part of a large study on social media in the context of emergency situations. The study found that the important concept of trust has been rather neglected in the research on social media. Although there was a considerable amount of research on online trust in general, little has been done in the area of social media. As a situation of risk is necessary for trust, the perceived trustworthiness of Facebook in crisis situation was examined in this study.

Explaining the study:

For predicting the trust in Facebook in a crisis situation the European research took into account the following predictor variables – Age, General use of FB, Dispositional Trust, Trust in FB as a communication channel.
Initially only Age factor was taken into consideration for predicting the Trust in FB in a crisis. This model was able to explain 4.4% of the total trust in FB in a crisis.
Later on General use of FB was examined and added into this model. This led to an increase of 4.4% in the model’s overall ability to explain trust in FB in a crisis leading to an overall value of 8.8%
Next, dispositional trust was examined and added, leading to an increase of 3.5%. The overall model now could explain 12.3% of the Trust in FB in a crisis situation.
Finally Trust in FB as a communication channel was added to the model. This led to an increase of 11.8% in the model’s ability to explain trust in FB in a crisis. The overall ability of the model now becomes 24.1%. 

Findings of the study

Ø The overall regression model explained about 24 % of variance.

Ø As one would expect, trusting Facebook in a crisis situation depends on more than general use of this medium, dispositional trust, and trust toward Facebook in general.

Ø For instance, one could assume that personal experience with crisis situations or risk perception also affects perceived trustworthiness.

More research needed on the trustworthiness of social networking sites to find out the actual influence of information delivered.

One limitation of the European study is the fact that the presented situation was hypothetical and rather abstract. More experimental research is needed to explore the actual influence of information delivery through social media. Also, the measure for the general use of Facebook in this study was based on a subjective self-evaluation, rather than an objective measure. Future research should obtain objective measures concerning individual usage patterns on social media platforms.
Lily Ciric Hoffmann, an award-winning digital media producer and a social media editor at University of Maryland, says that social media can be trusted during crisis situations but only if the source of the information is credible (see video).

Understanding and acting upon the advantages and disadvantages of social media during a disaster can be a matter of life and death. 

David Kalson, an expert in crisis management says that the goal for any organization experiencing a crisis that affects the public is to integrate social media with traditional communications channels. The two platforms must be mutually supportive in their messaging and responses to the public, he says in his September 2015 write-up on, a crisis, emergency and security management company.

Kalson says that during a natural disaster, understanding and acting upon both the advantages as well as disadvantages of social media can literally be a matter of life and death.

“When a crisis such as a natural disaster affects the public, social media, most notably Twitter and Facebook, will always come into play. While social media is an increasingly vital aspect of crisis communication, it usually does not exist on its own. Social media supplements and enhances other, more traditional communications, whether it’s a siren alert or a TV news broadcast,” Kalson says.

Here are some advantages and disadvantages of social media in crisis communication that Kalson emphasized upon in his 2015 write-up. 


Before a disaster affecting the public strikes, social media provides organizations with a powerful tool for building trust among people who use social media by developing constructive dialogues in social media communities. 

Regular monitoring of social media can help serve as an early warning system for helping first responders identify pending disasters. 

Social media also provides another way to assess recovery progress in the wake of a disaster. 


Unauthorized or inept use of social media platforms by an organization’s personnel could be damaging to its credibility and the ability to earn trust.

Many segments of the public such as the elderly and infirm, economically disadvantaged, and non-English speakers do not typically use social media. Other communications channels like door-to-door personal meetings may be necessary in such case.

Information gathered from social media users may be inaccurate.

People’s views on disaster and the response to it could be erroneous. 

Read : 6 Social Media “Musts” for Crisis Communication

Rahul Bahadur, a student of Information Management at University of Maryland says that he would rather trust the information on social media than the traditional media in a crisis situation. (see video)

During crisis, citizens often trust information provided by the government as they expect the crisis communication of the government to be reliable, open, honest and rapid, says Dutch study.

According to a study undertaken by Joel Velthorst of the University of Twente in Netherlands in June 2015, during a crisis, the public is informed about a crisis via social networks earlier than by traditional forms of news communication. 
Velthorst’s report, “Framing Public Crisis Responses, A Study on the Effects of News Frames in the Social-Mediated Crisis Communication of the Local Government”,says that where social media defines a crisis as a revolution right from the beginning, other media are not as quick in defining situations and recognizing events. Because of the fast and rapid character of social media, the press and government lose their autonomy in providing news and information during crises. Although the government and its organizations are just one of the available sources for information during a crisis situation, the government retains its task to inform the population of citizens in her region and/or country in crisis situations. 
However, it appears that during a crisis, citizens tend to rely more on information that is provided by the government on social media than on information from citizens. Citizens expect the crisis communication of the government to be reliable, open, honest and rapid. Besides that, they expect it to be consistent with their need for information. The main reason for the government to use social media in managing crisis, is the fact that its stakeholders are already using them to communicate about it. Furthermore, the government should be present on social media, otherwise it would possibly lose contact and feeling with its citizens. As a result, the government would be no longer aware of what motivates and moves its citizens. 

Timely information by government during crisis situations prevents false theories and rumors

Velthorst’s report says that via social media, the government can exchange and compare information during a crisis, which enables it to react faster and better, and to provide help in the right time and place. Timely information during crisis situations prevents false theories and rumors. 
In case of rumors, the possibility of two-way communication allows the government to undertake action against any rumors. However, the current situation is that the government has to make better and more use of social media during a crisis. The local government does not have a full understanding of how these can assist and support it in managing a crisis situation. 

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