False Information amid Disasters: Heinous Posts That Cause Confusion Unacceptable

The spread of false information during large-scale disasters, hampering relief and other operations, must be prevented. The government needs to consult with social media companies to take effective measures against such situations.

After the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, a social media post claimed that someone was trapped in a collapsed house. Police rushed to the scene — but the message turned out to be false. Rescue calls using nonexistent place names were also confirmed.

A video was posted showing a tsunami washing away many cars, but it appears to have been made by manipulating real video footage taken during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake. There were also false allegations about “the use of earthquake weapons.”

Posting false information is unacceptable even in normal circumstances, but it is worse in times of disaster. There is even concern that police and firefighters engaged in rescue operations could become confused, and as a result, lives that could have been saved may be lost.

On Jan. 2, the day after the Noto Peninsula Earthquake, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry asked the four social media operators to take appropriate action against false and misleading information.

The social media platform X Corp., formerly known as Twitter, Inc., has frozen accounts that have made suspicious solicitations for donations. LY Corp. and Meta Platforms, Inc., formerly known as Facebook, Inc., have deleted posts that were clearly found to be false.

Google LLC has reportedly put a system in place to intensively monitor its own video posting site for a certain period of time.

Even so, however, it was not possible to completely eliminate false information. The advent of generative artificial intelligence has made it easier to create fake video footage, increasing the risk of false information spreading.

There is a view that the system of sharing advertising revenue from social media services with posters encourages the posting of false information.

In summer last year, X introduced a system that allows posters to earn advertising revenue if they meet certain conditions, such as their number of views reaching a certain level. Since the more views the posters get, the more revenue they earn, it seems possible that the system is incentivizing people to post false information that easily attracts attention.

The government should move quickly to ascertain the situation, and demand that any problems be corrected.

A ministry expert panel has begun discussions on measures against false information in times of disasters, among other topics. The panel said it intends to compile a report after interviewing social media operators and conducting other surveys.

With the widespread use of social media services now, the companies operating such services have a great responsibility. It is hoped that the expert panel will examine the efforts of each operating company and make use of the findings in new measures.

During the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake disaster, a man who falsely posted that a lion had escaped was arrested on suspicion of fraudulent obstruction of business for interfering with the operation of a zoo. It will become important for the police to take strict action against heinous false posts.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 14, 2024)