Just hours after a mass evacuation order was given, the emergency in Northern California turned social media into its usual outrage culture filled with political propaganda. This event has provided a real time illustration of the way that social media is collapsing in on itself.
Water scientist Peter Gleick says he cannot tell which is worse: “gloating comments” on social media might be worse than evacuating 190,000 people under threat of flooding and loss of life – and he cannot tell which is worse? (His comments reinforce his documented reputation for unethical behavior.)
The environmental spin:
At this point, we don’t know the cause of the Oroville Dam problems – design, construction, maintenance, operational management errors, policy maker decisions, weather, uncertainty, history of floods in the area and so on – but on social media, we know the cause with precision …. or perhaps someone doesn’t want to let a crisis go to waste when it presents an opportunity for propaganda messaging. (There were numerous tweets similar to the above.)
The above were posted within 1-3 hours of the evacuation order.
The next day, but less than 24 hours since the evacuation order was given, Twitter’s #OrovilleDam tag has turned into mostly political propaganda. Literally, nearly half of the tweets were politicizing the disaster:
Some begin to note that turning a real time disaster in to politicking looks awkward:
These two appeared adjacent to one another on Twitter:
And so on. Never let a disaster of unknown cause go to waste when there is social media propaganda to spread!
(Note – I waited until after the crisis was largely resolved before publishing this post. The evacuation order was lifted yesterday afternoon.)