Responding to Rumors and Misinformation

Stylized words,

Most emergencies are susceptible to communication errors. Misunderstandings, mistrust, and simple mistakes may cause conflicting messaging to emerge. For crisis communicators, it’s important to understand when and how wrong messages should be corrected.

While many messaging errors might have little to no impact on people affected by a disaster, some rumors and misinformation can be very destructive.

  • Misunderstandings can cause confusion. People may not know what to do if they don’t feel they have enough information or are unable to interpret the information that is available to them.
  • Mistrust may make rumors seem reasonable. If people affected by a crisis don’t trust your organization, they may not trust your advice. The public could believe incorrect information if they feel its source is more credible than you.
  • Simple mistakes may account for other emergency errors. Oversights—including typos and lack of fact checking—may lead people to misread messaging.

Misleading communication might promote harmful behaviors that increase personal and public health risks. Inconsistent guidance can also undermine the credibility of your organization.

As a crisis communicator, you must know when and how to address these communication errors. While it may not be realistic to respond to every rumor, misinformation that can be damaging should be corrected. The following steps can help you address myths, rumors, and misconceptions:

  • Monitor traditional and social media and conduct environmental scanning to identify possible misinformation.
  • Dispel rumors by immediately providing accurate information through appropriate channels, including

          *   Media

          *   Social media

          *   Partner organizations

          *   Print and website content disseminated by your organization

  • Regularly update information outlets with current information to help them avoid speculation.

Effective communication—including managing misinformation—can help reduce and prevent public health risks in emergency situations. 

For more information on CERC visit our website and check out the CERC manual. You can also read previous CERC Corners.

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Page last reviewed: March 23, 2017 (archived document)