Hurricane Florence has begun her slow, water-logged move inland. As communities in her path face an onslaught of rain and rising floodwaters, they’re also contending with a distinctly different problem: disinformation and outright hoaxes, often spread via social media.
Numerous hoaxes, shark and race-based ones in particular, seem to be repeated with every hurricane.
When in doubt ― and if you found it on social media or a news site you’ve never heard of, always be in doubt ― check the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Hurricane Florence rumor control website.
Also, check the information against fake stories that went viral during previous storms. Storyful has a list of them from Hurricane Irma, and the Houston Chronicle has a roundup about hoaxes that went viral during Hurricane Harvey. FEMA also has a rumor control website from Hurricane Harvey.
If it involves a shark in any capacity, you can almost assuredly ignore it. Like this, for instance:
(A similar tweet, sent by the exact same account, also went viral during Hurricane Harvey last year.)
If you’re wondering what sort of gullible idiot believes these types of stories and passes them along as fact, the answer is Rush Limbaugh, who did just that on his show earlier this week.
“So, those of you in the target path in North Carolina, South Carolina: In addition to the pig manure, in addition to the slop, in addition to the floods, in addition to the cars rolling around on the waters in front of your house, in addition to the mudslides and the landslides, now you might end up with a shark in your front yard,” he warned listeners on Monday. “I’m telling you right ― you think I’m making this up? This appeared somewhere.”
Other common hoaxes that spread during hurricanes involve outright lies about service animals not being allowed in shelters (they are), falsities about insurance claims and reports of funnel clouds.
The same warning light should go off in your head if the story has obvious political overtones, like this race-baiting (and fake) post about a black guy intentionally wasting gas so as to deprive the white people waiting in line behind him:
The hashtag “lootcrew” is employed by political opportunists during events like this to fuel racist hoaxes. BuzzFeed has a rundown on the historical use of the hashtag.
Or this (fake) story about Trump voters being denied service because of their pro-Trump bumper stickers: