Observations on credibility, authenticity, and reliability offered by workshop panelists and participants in the discussion that followed the panel session included the following:
• There are many information brokers, including many not traditionally viewed as official sources of news, who can serve as trusted sources in social media, such as individuals active in a particular geographical area or in organizations such as the Standby Task Force. Many of these brokers are taking steps to verify information. Those following these trusted brokers can in turn share this information with others who may not know who is a trusted broker.
• Technology allows us to use distributed approaches to establishing trust. For example, although an individual’s information may not be trustworthy, greater trust can be established if multiple reports with similar information can be found.
• The ways in which people seek information during a disaster can be different from the ways they seek information normally. For example, research has shown that during a disaster or mass emergency situation, people have a greater willingness to follow individuals who are different from themselves than they do under normal circumstances. Also, they tend to seek firsthand, “on the ground” information. Locality and hyperlocality matter. On Twitter, formal emergency response agencies or local media are retweeted more often than others.7
• What can be learned from past research on emergent behavior (where groups of individuals collectively complete complex tasks they could not do independently)? What prior results apply to emergent behavior with social media, and what aspects might be different?
• At the same time that they are learning how to evaluate information provided by the public, officials must also find ways to build their credibility with the public. An effort to build credibility can be as simple as an acknowledgment that an organization is listening to the public. This kind of direct communication between officials and volunteers builds a network of trust.
7 Kate Starbird and Leysia Palen. Pass it on?: Retweeting in a mass emergency. Proceedings of the Conference on Information Systems for Crisis Response and Management (ISCRAM 2010). Seattle, Wash., May 2010.