Jun Zhuang

False tweets during Harvey, Irma under scrutiny by UB researchers

A map of the United States that shows how a piece of fake news spread across the country.

In 2012, a Twitter user in New York City (account name removed) incorrectly tweeted that the New York Stock Exchange building was flooded during Hurricane Sandy. That tweet was retweeted by news organizations and spread across the nation, as shown in the map above, before it was debunked. Image: University at Buffalo.

During Hurricane Harvey, a rumor spread on Twitter that officials were asking shelter-seekers about their immigration status. These rumors often fester online for hours or days. The results — from the letdown of not receiving a needed good to the very dangerous scenario of not seeking appropriate shelter — are often frustrating or precarious.

We have received a one-year, $175,735 National Science Foundation grant to study how misinformation spread and was squelched during hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The grant will help the team develop guidelines designed to help everyone — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to the general public — reduce the spread of falsehoods on Twitter during emergencies.

Jun Zhuang in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is the grant's principal investigator. Jun has been studying how social media is used for crisis communication during disasters. He is lead author of a study that appears in the October edition of the journal Natural Hazards that examines tweets during 2012's Hurricane Sandy. Janet Yang, in the Department of Communication, College of Arts and Sciences, is co-principal investigator