Reckless rumors

Published 10:09 pm Thursday, October 13, 2016

It’s amazing — no make that disappointing — that some people have nothing better to do during and after an event such as a hurricane to spread rumors and “information” that has no basis in fact. All those people do is make a bad situation worse.

On Monday, as government officials worked tirelessly to restore power to the area, make preparations for expected river flooding and make plans to distribute food and water to storm victims who needed it, there were people using social media to spread misleading, if not downright untrue, information. For example, on Monday, social media spread the “news” that the City of Washington and Beaufort County would shut off public water supplies later that day. To their credit, officials quickly squelched that misinformation, asking the news media to put out the word that public supplies would not be turned off.

Then there were the “absolutely true” assertions that dams had failed, sending millions of gallons of floodwater into this area. The truth: a levee break added to the water levels in Lumberton. The heavy rainfall stressed some dams in areas at least two hours from Washington and the Pamlico River. The key word is stressed, not breached or burst.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shot down a rumor that the dam at the B. Everett Jordan Lake west of Raleigh was going to release a large amount of water in the aftermath of Matthew. Rumors like that one do nothing but scare people needlessly. Another rumor: a section of Interstate 95 between mile markers 17 and 41 was closed because of water released from a dam. That section was closed because it was under water, water from flooding caused by heavy rains, not a water release at a dam.

As much as people hate it when the power goes out during a storm and stays out for hours and days, maybe selective power outages that target people who spread falsehoods and outright lies during a disaster would be appropriate. Better yet, everyone exercise good judgment when posting items on social media, but some will still post misinformation just so they can be part of the social-media conversation.

Take information on social media with a grain of salt — well, make that a shaker of salt.