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Welcome to the Internet

My World's on Fire
Welcome to the Internet
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #49 • View online
Thanks for reading my World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, I hope you’ll subscribe!

A (likely relatable) confession: I don’t spend much time on Facebook anymore. I can’t remember the last time I posted an update, and it’s definitely getting harder to match my 2015 profile picture with the way I look today. 
When I do log on these days, it’s usually to research a disaster. I’ve written repeatedly about how these events intersect with social media, from fundraisers on Clubhouse to awareness campaigns on Twitter to the deep communities that form on Facebook. It’s a space that’s often fraught, offering a lifeline to many in need of assistance but also setting up others to be scammed or misled by misinformation. The latter was particularly prevalent last summer – remember the false rumor about Antifa arsonists in the West that public figures like Joe Rogan amplified? (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I highly recommend checking out this study).  
This week, I went on Facebook to see if there was any activity related to the Telegraph Fire, which is now the sixth-largest wildfire on record in Arizona. In the nearly two weeks it’s been burning, it’s damaged or destroyed more than 40 structures and required multiple communities to evacuate. My search turned up Telegraph Fire Information, a page run by a team of public information officials to be “a place where people feel comfortable sharing fire information with one another.”
The Telegraph Fire Information Facebook page
The Telegraph Fire Information Facebook page
The page has hosted a Facebook Live every night this week (including tonight) featuring a lineup of local, tribal, state, and federal officials responding to the wildfire. Each share details relevant to the local audience, including updates on the firefighting response, evacuations, weather predictions, road closures, and air quality. The team behind the page also posts regularly throughout the day, offering quick insights and bulletins, and they moderate and respond to comments. There’s a Twitter, too, though it’s not quite as active (despite the fact that “fire Twitter” is very much a thing).
While some presence on social media has become par for the course for officials and organizations responding to disasters, I was struck by how comprehensive and interactive this page is compared to others I’ve come across, so I reached out to the team behind it to learn more. According to David Albo, the public information officer I spoke with by phone, their goal is to become a “one-stop shop” for all the information someone in the area could need. Albo said pages like this have become pretty common for their incident management teams to set up, particularly for events that require multiple agencies or partners to handle. 
“There’s a team that kind of comes in and helps manage the most complex fires where, you know, it’s large and there are evacuations and a lot at risk around these communities that they’re trying to protect,” he explained.
A screengrab from Wednesday night's Virtual Community Meeting
A screengrab from Wednesday night's Virtual Community Meeting
As of this writing, hundreds are tuning into the nightly virtual meetings they host, which include Q&As, and the page has more than 8,800 followers. Albo says they will continue running it until things “start winding down” and the fire reverts to being managed by a local team. At that point, they’ll post a notification at the top of the page and set up auto-replies to point users in the right direction for future information. 
After speaking with Albo, I thought back to an interview I did for OneZero last year about the popularity of Facebook during times of crisis. Dr. Jeannette Sutton, a professor specializing in disaster and risk, told me she felt the site was a smart place for agencies to reach impacted populations – that, oftentimes, rumors became prevalent on Facebook due to a lack of direct communication from reputable sources. In other words, if people are going to Facebook or other social media sites to get this essential news, there’s a need for officials to meet them there and speak to their concerns rather than just re-posting press releases filled with industry jargon. Telegraph Fire Information certainly attempts to do this, and I’ll be interested to follow it along in the weeks to come.
The role of social media in shaping our understanding and response to disasters is a space I’m always looking to dig more into, so please do reach out if you have any thoughts. Let me know what pages/groups/accounts you’re following or if there are any rumors that you see circulating this summer. You can reach me by responding to this email or on Twitter.
Don't get it twisted
It’s not too late to join in on the first-ever MWOF movie night! I’m pushing it back to July due to some deadlines I’m on, so please do sign up if you’re interested in checking out a disaster movie with other subscribers and me. The move also comes with a new movie choice – the title of this section is a hint! 🌪
As always...
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Jacob Remes
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