The internet exists, and so does Hurricane Florence. The inevitable result? An ever-growing tally of online hoaxes about the dangerous storm, hoping to go viral on the good intentions of people who are trying to find and share the latest information.
Look on this list, ye Mighty, and despair.
SHARKS SHARKS SHARKS
Shark hoaxes are so common during natural disasters involving flooding that their circulation has become a meme. And yet, those who aren’t online all the time seem to fall for these hoaxes every storm. Florence appears to be no exception.
In the wake of Florence
- Flooding in Florence's final stand not as bad as feared
- Florence's slow-motion havoc leaves thousands of evacuees in limbo
- House approves $1.7 billion in disaster aid for Carolinas
- Florence is nation's second-wettest storm, behind Harvey
- Carolinas begin reckoning with loss of homes, livelihoods
- Damage to crops, farms could be in the billions
- Downgrade? Hurricane rating system fails to account for deadly rain
A fake television image purporting to show that Florence “now contains sharks” started circulating earlier this week. The image is nearly identical to one that generated tens of thousands of shares online during Hurricane Irma. Although some circulating this fake image clearly know it’s a joke, not everyone seems to understand; Snopes has already posted a fact check on it.
The image originates from a pretty well-known fake TV still generator, Break Your Own News. Normally, the image bears a prominent watermark indicating the source, but some have blurred it out before sharing.
Rush Limbaugh also talked about this obviously fake story on his show this week.
“New reports from NOAA aircraft show sharks have been lifted into the hurricane,” Limbaugh said on the Tuesday edition of his program. “So those of you in the target path in North Carolina, South Carolina: In addition to the pig manure, in addition to the slop, in addition to the floods, in addition to the cars rolling around on the waters in front of your house, in addition to the mudslides and the landslides, now you might end up with a shark in your front yard.”
“I’m telling you right — you think I’m making this up? This appeared somewhere,” Limbaugh said, holding up the image of the fake TV screencap. He then went on to talk about one of his favorite storm-related stories: his theory that the media hypes up hurricane coverage in order to promote climate-change science, a point he was possibly trying to illustrate with the fake shark meme that, to be clear, is not a real news story.
It also doesn’t help when some of those sharing the image are journalists themselves.
We reached out to Matt Hartman, whose bio identifies him as a “Freelance News Photojournalist,” for comment on his decision to share this hoax. His response:
“its clearly a joke and was not originated from me nor and i the one who created this. go away”
He then deleted the tweet.
Hartman later said that the image he posted came from a Facebook group that is presently dedicated to posting memes about Florence. The image there has more than 5,000 shares.
Anyway. Don’t share shark pics of dubious origin.
DON’T STORE YOUR VALUABLES IN THE DISHWASHER
A copy-paste meme offering a long list of hurricane advice already has thousands of shares on Facebook, and it might offer some good advice. But it also contains some very wrong information.
First: No matter what you read on Facebook, don’t store your valuables in a dishwasher to protect them.
The viral post advises that “anything that you want to try and preserve, but you can’t take with you — place it in a plastic bin and put in your dishwasher, lock the door — this should make it water tight in case of any water intrusion into your home.” The post’s advice was picked up by multiple news outlets this week.
Like other hurricane misinformation, this advice has been viral before. During 2017’s Irma, a post advising a similar idea was shared more than a million times. However, as BuzzFeed reported in 2017, dishwashing companies don’t recommend this. The Tampa Bay Times called a dishwasher repair company to ask about this myth, too, and they confirmed that dishwashers don’t keep the water out during a flood.
It makes sense that people might think a dishwasher is waterproof — after all, it seems to keep water in while running. But those who have tried this tip in the past have been disappointed.
DON’T SHOOT AT THE HURRICANE
More than 30,000 people have joined a Facebook event organizing an effort to shoot guns at Florence to scare the storm away from Richmond, Virginia. The event is clearly not serious, and carries a disclaimer from its organizer: “Do not actually discharge firearms into the air. You could kill someone and you cannot frighten a hurricane. I can’t believe I actually have to write this.”
The Facebook group is one of several promoting tongue-in-cheek ideas for stopping Florence. One, playing off the “Aunt Flo” nickname for menstruation, suggests throwing tampons at the storm.
But in the past, law enforcement have had to clarify that shooting a bullet at a hurricane, even in frustration or jest, isn’t a great idea.
Ryan Stumpf, the Facebook event’s organizer, said in a direct message that the group was “100 percent satire.”
“Humor has long been a way of dealing with stress, and this is no different; with the serious nature of this storm, and the uncertainty of where/when/if it would make landfall, exacerbated that stress. This event has never been anything but a joke,” he wrote. “Are there some people who took it seriously? There’s over 100,000 people that have either RSVP”d ‘Going’ or ‘Interested’ to the event, and possibly millions more people have seen it. I’m sure there are disturbed individuals who could believe that shooting at a large cloud could effect it, but the very vast majority of ‘participants’ know that it’s just an excuse to make memes and laugh about the absurdity of it all.”
People have also been sharing actual advice in the group for preparing for Florence’s arrival, Stumpf noted.
If anyone was inspired by his group to shoot at a hurricane, Stumpf added, assuming they were “found competent by law to own and access said firearm,” then “their decisions are their own. Consequences would also be their own.”
The whole “shooting at a hurricane” thing is, frankly, in the same category with fears about eating Tide Pods: the idea tends to go much more viral than the actual act. But given the possible dangers of shooting a bullet blindly into a natural disaster, it’s worth noting that you shouldn’t try to scare the hurricane with your puny guns. You won’t hurt Florence and you might hurt a real human.
WALKIE-TALKIE PHONE APP WON’T WORK WITH NO SIGNAL
Another copy-paste meme, claiming to contain three “tips from FEMA” about hurricane survival, is circulating Facebook this year. One of the tips tells people in the path of Florence to download Zello. While putting an app like Zello on your phone before a hurricane might be a good idea, the reasons given in the Facebook post are not true.
“If phone service goes out because of the hurricane this app can be used like a walkie talkie so you and your loved ones can still communicate or if you need help,” one version of the post advises.
Like other items on the list, this advice is recycled from past hurricanes. And it’s not accurate. Zello needs some sort of signal to work.
“While Zello has been helpful in Harvey relief efforts, it is not a hurricane rescue tool and is only as useful as the people who use it, and as reliable as the data network available,” The app’s makers explain on a page giving advice on how to use Zello in a disaster.
As my Washington Post colleague Peter Holley notes, Zello downloads have spiked in the lead-up to Florence, as they have in the past when hurricanes threaten. And while many of those may be downloading the app with the false expectation that it will magically work without any phone or wifi signal available, the app has been useful for those coordinating rescue efforts or attempting to quickly communicate with those in the path of a storm.