Facebook and Emergency Handling

Posted by jwsadmin on April 7, 2015

Ok, everybody remember 9/11? Of course you do. You also all remember so many of the false stories that the radio stations and sometimes the TV were telling until we all calmed down a little and got to focus on our thoughts (well, until buildings 5 and 7 fell, which kinda shook us all up again).

One example: there were explosions at the state department (false). There were explosions at the capital (false). There were military planes chasing civilian airliners (mostly false). There were military planes shooting at other civilian planes (false). Lots of these little rumors, all called in to the radio stations or reported on the internet (for those of us who had connectivity in that day of ultra over-load). All false.

One of the problems we had, partly due to that internet overload, is that of those rumors still being posted even after they'd long since been discredited. The caches of the news reports, or copies of them, kept getting passed around, or links to the original page continued to be spread around after the news sources had made a new page for the updated information. The old info, out of date and known to be wrong, was still on their site.

The news media took to handling that situation by basically making a master page for the news story, which they would then update and edit as if it was a wikipedia page. Any time you clicked it, it would be the most up to date version possible. This is a reasonable solution.

It is not a solution Facebook is expecting. Facebook's "OpenGraph" system basically caches an image, headline, and summary on the page as soon as somebody shares it with the system. Any one of those 3 items may change later on the actual news page, but Facebook continues to show the original summary which is full of false information, or the original headline which is very leading, subjective, and possibly not even true. All because it has cached that as being the headline for the url.

This is happening today.

Right now, the WTOP story on the DC and Southern Maryland blackout is a rather mild take on a "problem with a transmission line", belonging to PEPCO. But if you were to try to share the URL, the original headline and summary, that there was an explosion in a St. Mary's transmission station belonging to SMECO, is what gets displayed. Lots of false information, but Facebook won't correct it. This is a problem, because someday there WILL be something serious, something full of false headlines and false stories, and people's reliance on links in facebook is going to make things worse, not better.

Facebook needs to solve this problem. And soon.

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