Keep Calm And Don’t Speculate: How To Be Helpful On Social Media Today

There's a lot of misinformation circulating about the Sydney siege. Don't amplify it.

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By now you are no doubt aware of the situation unfolding in Sydney’s Martin Place. Earlier this morning, an armed man or group of men entered the Lindt chocolate cafe on the corner of Martin Place and Phillip Street, and took those inside hostage.

Given the cafe’s location directly across the road from the Channel 7 Sydney studio, a live camera feed of the cafe was soon broadcasting on major TV channels, with each channel providing their own commentary. Those watching the feed, or following events on Twitter, would have seen a black flag with Arabic text hung in one of the cafe’s windows.

For now, that is all we know. We do not know who the armed man or men are, or what they want. We do not know how long this will last, or how it may end. We do not know how many people are being held in the cafe. One way or another, these things will become self-evident as time passes and the situation changes. Since the matter is now in the hands of the police on the scene and the man or men inside the cafe, there is very little anyone else, yourself included, can do.

That is not to say there is nothing you can do. Already, false and inaccurate information, unfounded speculation and expressions of hatred and intolerance have taken on a life of their own, spreading panic and confusion far more effectively than one man with a gun ever could. People on or near the scene, who are understandably shaken and upset, have already made a number of inaccurate statements on the situation — particularly in regards to the flag hung in the window — that have since been widely disseminated, and will be taken as fact by people caught up in the moment. 7 News wrongly claimed the flag was an “ISIS flag” in a tweet which has since been deleted.

But the families of the people involved, and the broader public, have a right to information that is accurate and correct. Spreading rumours on something as potentially serious as this is not innocuous: it is actively harmful. Your best course of action is to refrain from commenting or spreading unchecked information, online or otherwise, until the facts are known, the situation is better understood and our collective emotions aren’t running so high.

On that note, the need for live streamed coverage of the cafe is highly debatable in itself; the police need to do their jobs without worrying that their operations may by compromised, and whoever is inside the cafe clearly does not need more notoriety or publicity than that which they have already garnered. Your best course of action is to resist the admittedly powerful temptation to watch, and turn off the TV.

To be frightened and upset in a situation like this is normal. It is natural for a scared and agitated mind to take leaps of imagination that, when echoed and reflected by many other voices, can come to seem like the truth. That is why, right now, it is more important than ever to stick to the facts: to check and double-check every claim and assertion before liking, retweeting, commenting, endorsing, criticising or otherwise amplifying it.


When in doubt, wait. When you are not in full possession of the facts, remain silent so that more informed voices can be heard.

Feature image via 7 News Adelaide/Twitter.