Hurricane Irma’s deadly floodwaters and winds will be hard enough for Florida authorities to deal with. But they’ve got another problem to deal with: people responding to the hurricane in the most inane, dangerous ways.
Perhaps the clearest example is a Facebook group entitled “Shoot at Hurricane Irma.” The mission is exactly what it sounds like: Fire bullets at this “WINDY HEADASS NAMED IRMA,” as the group’s about section puts it. Roughly 27,000 people have said they will “attend” the event, and another 53,000 have said they’re interested.
To be clear: Shooting guns at a hurricane is a very bad idea. You should not do it. One Facebook user annoyed by the event created this handy graphic to explain why:
The event’s founder, a Florida man named Ryon Edwards, insisted that the event was a joke. “I've learned that about 50% of the world could not understand sarcasm to save their lives,” Edwards wrote in a comment on the Facebook page.
Count some local police officers among the 50 percent. The sheriff’s office in Pasco County, an area on Florida’s Gulf Coast likely to be hit hard by the rain, had to tweet an official warning against taking Edwards’ ideas too seriously.
“DO NOT shoot weapons @ #Irma,” the tweet read. “You won't make it turn around & it will have very dangerous side effects.”
A number of academic studies have found that disasters and crises — hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc. — create ideal conditions for misinformation to spread on social media. This is the problem with Edwards’s “it’s sarcastic” defense of his actions.
While he and perhaps the overwhelming majority of the people in his Facebook group may be in on the joke, not everyone necessarily will be. Even if just one or two people take it seriously, the consequences may be deadly.
“Social crises are characterized by the severe consequences of the incident, low probability of incident occurrence, informational and situational uncertainty, and decision-making pressure under time constraints,” a 2013 study published in the journal MIS Quarterly explains. “Unlike the mainstream media where professional reporters check information sources before publication, the shortage of reliable information in the social media space may be more likely to lead to questions seeking information, doubts expressing suspicions, subjective interpretations, or rumors.”
What this means is that encouraging people to take dangerous actions — even jokingly — is a terrible idea. You never know how people you’ve never met on the internet will take your joke under the stressful conditions created by a natural disaster.
It’s very possible that no one ends up trying to shoot at Hurricane Irma. Hopefully that’s right! But, just to be crystal clear, you should not shoot a hurricane.