Jim’s Blog



In the New Year you should do the following:

1. Review your emergency plan.

2. Update contact list of key personnel – cell phones, email addresses

3. Test the plan, revise as necessary



July, 2015

A Jim Stanton Report

So your community doesn’t have an emergency plan …

My crisis definition is:

“A turning point, a decisive, critical time which threatens great danger if not handled properly.”

Wei-ji: Symbol for OpportunityThe Chinese symbol for crisis is a combination of two symbols:  “danger”
and “opportunity.” It is called Wei-ji.

What this tells us is we must learn from the past – from breakdown comes breakthrough.

It is important to recognize that when things go wrong, you get one chance to get it right. Surviving the first 48 hours of a crisis means you need to be first, be right and be credible.

However, most elected officials and senior administration are too preoccupied with the day-to-day running of the community to worry about the possibility of needing an emergency plan.

As a result, and in spite of provincial and territorial legislation, many Canadian communities do not have up-to-date emergency plans or have no plans at all.

If there is a plan it is often outdated and no one has responsibility for maintenance. At best it is handed over to the Fire Chief for him or her to “manage”.

This is a direct reflection of the public’s perception about the need to plan for emergencies. Citizens would sooner have their tax dollars spent on new roads, parks, athletic facilities, retirement homes, etc., than on an emergency plan.

The problem is described by John Clague, National Hazard Research Center, Simon Fraser University, as Rare Event Syndrome:  “The potential for catastrophe is real but the frequency is low; therefore, people do not take the threat seriously”.

This changes when things do go wrong, as will inevitably happen. Then citizens demand to know what is occurring, but because the organization does not have a strategic, proactive, timely plan, information vital to helping the public cope with the situation is withheld.

People want to be told what is happening. Without a plan, public officials fear the release of information, because they don’t think the public will understand.  We need to have more faith in the public. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln said:

“I am a firm believer in the people.  If given the truth, they can be depended upon
to meet any crisis. The important point is to bring them the real facts.”

How does this play out in real life? Well, British Columbians know they are living on a major earthquake zone, with Vancouver itself straddling a significant fault line. Because there has not been a major quake in living memory, people are complacent.

CTV BC News recently conducted a poll to determine public readiness in the event of a catastrophic event, asking: “Do you have an emergency plan in place?”

The answers were as follows:

Completely ready at any time         8%
Sort of but need warning time        11%
No plan in place                            81%

Until recently, there was little incentive for public officials to change this situation. Now, however, a new sense of urgency has now been introduced on the scene.

According to the Canadian Press, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit has been filed against the town of L’Isle-Verte near Lac Mégantic, Quebec, in which 32 people died in a fire at a seniors’ home in January, 2014.

The owners of the residence and their insurer allege in their $3.8-million lawsuit that numerous mistakes “resulted in a human catastrophe that could have been avoided or at least been of lesser magnitude”.

The lawsuit alleges the town failed to implement emergency plans to cope with such a disaster. It says the failure of town officials to prepare for such a catastrophe showed a “reckless disregard for the lives of others, particularly the elderly in the Residence du Havre”.

They argue they had been asking the town to devise contingency plans for five years: “This lack of planning … meant that municipal employees improvised … and made serious mistakes”, the lawsuit says.

Lac Megantic
Photo: Ryan Remiorz – The CANADIAN PRESS

The lawsuit also alleges that one fire truck arrived at the scene of the blaze within 15 minutes and that several additional minutes passed before another arrived. It argues the numbers were insufficient, that the fire trucks were not equipped with appropriate ladders to rescue people in the seniors’ home and that the town’s volunteer firefighters did not have the proper equipment to provide emergency care.

The document also alleges that tensions between the fire departments in L’Isle-Verte and nearby Riviere-du-Loup, which was better equipped for the situation, contributed to the lack of planning.

You can bet that municipalities across Canada will be watching this trial with great interest.

Another motivating factor is the speed with which information about a disaster now spreads. Look at the chaos caused by the recent bus roll over near Merritt, BC. This happened 25 miles from a small community in the BC interior. Within minutes it was a worldwide story and every action of the first responders was under the microscope.

The lessons we need to take away from these examples are simple: have an emergency plan, test the plan and update it regularly. Catastrophe can strike at any time.

October 23, 2014

Terrorism in Quebec and Ontario

October 22nd was a terrible day for our “peaceable kingdom.”

Canadians are becoming aware that the threat of terrorism can occur in our backyard from homegrown dissidents. Shocking for most I would say.

The biggest question right now is how does a lone man, rifle in hand, jump a fence, run across several hundred yards of lawn, dash through the front door of Parliament and makes his way 400 yards into the heart of the building without being challenged?

This is not to demean the police officers that ran towards him when he started shooting, or the Sergeant-at-Arms who killed the thug. They were very courageous and are to be commended for their actions. It’s a bigger question about perimeter security.

Also, both yesterday’s killer and the one two days before who ran down the two soldiers in Quebec were on the RCMP “watch List” – apparently it is a watch list that nobody watches!

Our little Canadian world changed on October 22nd. Although on a smaller scale it is our 9-11 in terms of national consciousness about the realities of terrorism and its worldwide spread.

Cpl Cirillo

June, 2014


‘Crisis communications plans important: LeRiche’

Published on June 4, 2014
Diane Crocker

Jim Stanton - Stanton Associates. Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador

Jim Stanton of Stanton Associates, is seen chatting with Glenda McCarthy, centre, from the College of the North Atlantic and Carla May of Cornerstone HR. Stanton was the facilitator for Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador crisis communication in emergency management provincial workshop held at Corner Brook City Hall on Tuesday, June 3, 2014.       Photo: Geraldine Brophy

Don’t panic. In an emergency situation, Len LeRiche said those two words are the worst thing you can say.

“What do you hear? You hear the word panic,” said LeRiche, president and CEO of Safety Services Newfoundland and Labrador.

LeRiche said that sort of drives home the message the organization is trying to get out there through a Crisis Communications in Emergency Management workshop it held in Corner Brook on Tuesday.

“What we’re getting into here is the importance of establishing crisis communications plans or communications plans in general,” he said.

Twelve people, including representatives from the Deer Lake Airport Authority, Corner Brook Port Corporation, Western Health and the City of Corner Brook, participated in the workshop held at Corner Brook City Hall and facilitated by Jim Stanton, president of Stanton Associates.

LeRiche said when there’s an event or incident communication is usually the weak link in it all.

Ultimately though, he said the groups or organizations involved want to get accurate information out to the public so that they can make decisions.

He used declaring a state of emergency as an example and said even if an evacuation is called some people don’t know that unless it is legislated that people don’t have to go.

“But we want them out of that area, so we want to make sure an important message goes out, so they can determine what kind of risk they’re exposed to and be able to make that decision to go,” LeRiche said.

He said this applies to any type of incident or event from a flood to a hurricane, a fire or industrial accident.

“When that happens people need the information to be able to make decisions,” he said.

LeRiche added it’s also important for people to know that when there is an incident the organization can say what its doing to respond to it.

“So what we want to be able to do is to have people prepared to work with media, for instance … for having a prepared message to drive,” he said.

LeRiche said the media can be a huge help to the emergency plan of a community, as carrier of the message, when it is factored into that plan.

He said that social media also has a role to play in the dissemination of information, but it’s important that the information be accurate.

Safety Services NL has three key program areas — traffic safety, occupational health and safety and community safety.

May, 2014

Mount Pearl, NL, Mayor Randy Simms, advises politicians about the importance of taking media training. Simms, who also hosts a popular radio talk show, says, ”Everyone involved in public life should have media training.” He notes that when crisis or emergencies occur you need to “get out in front of it before it consumes you.” As we say in our training sessions, “Feed the beast.”

March, 2014

A Jim Stanton Report

‘The Myths of Panic’

ClearingRubble-350pxLet’s look at the myths of panic.

Before World War II, the British Ministry of War predicted “mass outbreaks of hysterical neurosis” would occur when bombing started. What happened in reality was the exact opposite. People banded together to save fellow human beings and showed remarkable acts of kindness. Time and time again, volunteers went into bombed out buildings to rescue people they didn’t know.


This is not a new phenomenon. When the San Francisco earthquake happened in 1906, soup kitchens were set up to feed the homeless and volunteer rescuers while the fires were still burning. Clothing drives were organized and money was raised. As one newspaper described things, “Everybody was at work – discipline and order were practically perfect.”

In April 1912, RMS Titanic sank in the icy waters off Newfoundland with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

Titanic-webWith rare exception, the crew and passengers responded to the disaster in a calm and orderly manner. The “women and children first‘ protocol was generally followed when loading the lifeboats and most of the male passengers and crew were left aboard.

The Titanic’s Chaplin, Father Thomas Byles, spent his final moments alive reciting the rosary and other prayers, hearing confessions, and giving absolution to the dozens of people who huddled around him. As a “man of the cloth” he would have been entitled to a seat in the lifeboat but he chose to stay and minister to the passengers.

The band of Titanic is one of the most mysterious and legendary tales that comes from the ill-fated ocean liner. Titanic’s eight-member band, led by Wallace Hartley, assembled and played in the first-class lounge in an effort to keep everyone calm. As the ship continued to plunge, the band moved to the forward half of the boat deck, and continued playing even when their doom became apparent.

However, despite historical evidence to the contrary, the myths of panic still persist and go like this:

  1. People will become blank slates and roam aimlessly around in a state of shock.
  2. In the face of personal danger, people only think of themselves.
  3. People will revert to a barbaric state.
  4. People will cause mass hysteria with panic flight.
  5. Too much information will scare people and add to a sense of panic.
  6. Communities affected by a disaster will fall apart and never recover.
  7. Trained professionals will be first on the scene and are trained to manage chaos.
  8. People do not want to hear from elected officials due to mistrust.

Why do they persist? The source of creating these myths lies directly in the hands of popular videos, comic books, and movies. Hollywood loves nothing better than creating a gory zombie movie. Comic books and television networks outbid each other in producing fanciful series about “The Walking Dead,”  “Night of the Living Dead,” “Zombieland,” and “Red Neck Zombies,” to name a few.


When looked at closely in real world situations none of these myths is true.

Let’s examine each one. First, people will become blank slates and roam aimlessly around in a state of shock. The fact is most people become innovative problem-solvers in a crisis. A few examples include: The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 in which citizens formed bucket-brigades to attempt to quell the fires; travellers on the nearby highway rushed to the aid of survivors as they poured out of their crashed Air France plane at the Toronto airport in 2005; footage from the 1995 Oklahoma bomb explosion shows ordinary citizens helping the injured.

OklahomaExplosion-webThe myth that people are inherently selfish and will abandon others to take care of themselves has been proven to be false time and again. In fact, most people are altruistic and organize spontaneously to save their fellow human beings. This was demonstrated recently at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 where citizens can be seen in social media clips administering tourniquets, carrying the wounded, and comforting the injured. All of this was happening when no one knew if another bomb might explode.

NYTradeCentreAttack-webWhen the New York World Trade Center was attacked in September 2001, rumours circulated that office workers died because they panicked and jammed the stairways. The reality was that, once again, people acted unselfishly and stopped to help others to evacuate to safety. Wheelchair-confined personnel waiting in refuge areas for firefighters to assist them were carried down 50 and more floors by ordinary citizens who refused to abandon them.

To address the myth that people revert to a barbaric state in times of crisis, consider was transpired during and after Hurricane Katrina, the deadliest and most destructive tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. Stories emerged that people became “primal” and vicious and that gangs marauded, raped, and cannibalized folks in the Superdome. No evidence exists to show this happened. Yes, some looting did occur but it was mostly by hungry, desperate people. The overwhelming evidence shows that citizens helped each other in the days and hours before official first responders arrived.

A similar myth circulated about the danger of looting during the 2013 Alberta and Ontario floods. In fact, crime rates dropped and citizens formed community patrol groups to protect the evacuated and flooded areas.

A myth persists that people will panic if told too much. In 1861 Abraham Lincoln said, I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any crisis. The important point is to bring them the real facts.” What Lincoln said a century and a half ago, holds true today. People respond calmly when they know the facts.

In the 1979 Three Mile Island, New York, nuclear meltdown, agencies were afraid to release information because they thought the public would panic. The facts show that 150,000 people self-evacuated spontaneously without incident. However, Hollywood produced a movie portraying chaos, rioting and panic – none of which was based in fact.

In speaking about the 2013 wild land fire in Labrador West, Labrador City Mayor Karen Oldford said, “I appreciated the constant communications updates via conventional media, as well as social media, and the use of the local HAM radio operators.  Due to our quick communications people were kept up-to-date with what was happening with the fire.”

GrandeurOfTheSeas-webWhen the cruise ship “Grandeur of the Seas” caught fire in May 2013, passengers commented, “The crew was in total control, told us what to do and there was no chaos. All passengers stayed calm.”

A myth also exists among many emergency managers and politicians who believe chaos will occur if they don’t have rigid control over the messaging that goes out to the public. The facts support that crises and disasters enhance solidarity and actually suppress conflict, especially in this age of social media.

These same officials are afraid that social media will spread fear and panic. Evidence shows the contrary. Social media allows people to see in real time what is really happening and, thereby, lessens uncertainty. Facebook and Twitter, in particular, become the “go-to places” for information in times of crisis.

During the Calgary floods in 2013, the number of Tweets and Facebook posts were staggering. The most-shared stories focused on community support, volunteerism and philanthropy.

The myth about trained professionals always being first on the scene is completely inaccurate. In the overwhelming majority of cases, ordinary citizens are the true first responders. They are the ones who do the initial triage and first aid, before police, paramedics and firefighters arrive.

The final myth I want to examine is the one that people do not want to hear from elected officials because of lack of trust. This is flat out wrong.

Supermayor-webCalgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi used social media, in particular Twitter, to reach out to Calgarians. Folks called him “Supermayor.” His Twitter account was the most popular site during the Calgary floods and he was re-elected Mayor with an overwhelming majority.

During the Labrador West fires in the summer of 2013 and serious power outages in 2014, the then-Premier Kathy Dunderdale failed to reach out to citizens early. In January 2014, she resigned.

What does all this myth-busting tell us?

First, we need to be aware of these myths and have a commitment to overcome them. Secondly, it is critical to remember that in times of uncertainty people want information about eight fundamentals, which I call the Stanton Method:

1. What is really happening?

2. How will this affect me?

3. What are you doing?

4. What do I need to do?

5. Specific and detailed instructions.

6. When will things get back to normal?

7. Reassurance.

8. Voices of authority they can trust.

What does this tell us as communicators? Do NOT play the blame game! We need to make our stories about people – our audiences. We need to engage traditional and social media to reach those audiences, quickly and consistently. Remember, whoever connects with the new and traditional media first sets the news template. Everyone else is reacting to what you have said.

In times of stress one of the first things to go, when people face a crisis, is their short-term memory. They don’t know that they don’t know. As communicators we need to make sure our messages are brief, uncomplicated, and succinct.

Finally, it’s critical to understand when things go wrong, you only have one chance to get it right. There is no such thing as over-communicating.


December, 2013

Jim Stanton interviewed on CBC TV News – “Top Story”

‘Should Rob Ford have declared a State of Emergency?’

Watch video here.

November, 2013

Article from The Halifax Commoner

‘Social media drives disaster relief’

Published on November 20, 2013
Tim Callanan

Jim Stanton advocates the use of social media for communicating during disasters. (Photo by Tim Callanan)

Jim Stanton was working in disaster and crisis communications decades before the first tweet was sent. But that doesn’t mean he shies away from new technology.

“With social media you have a brilliant way to actually manage the message,” says Stanton, a communications consultant who spoke at the Canadian Red Cross Conference on Disaster Management in Halifax on Tuesday.

“Social media can be used to correct misinformation instantly,” he told the audience of emergency planners from Atlantic Canada and beyond.

With much of the world focused on relief efforts in the Philippines following Typhoon Haiyan, the conference helped its 200 participants develop crisis management strategies for their own communities and organizations.

Stanton says social media is a crucial part of any of these plans. Last summer his company, Stanton Associates, coordinated public communications for the town of Wabush, N.L., when forest fires forced residents to evacuate their homes.

Working out of an emergency operations centre, Stanton posted notices to a Facebook page, in addition to sending them out to traditional media outlets.

He says the Facebook page became “the place to go” for residents seeking information during the crisis.

“I’d hit send, put it onto Facebook, and minutes later we were getting responses from people,” he says. “It’s a really valuable, proactive tool.”

Stanton wasn’t the only person at the conference promoting the use of networks like Facebook and Twitter in emergency situations. Businesses, aid groups and even the Canadian government are acknowledging the role social media can play in response to a crisis.

“We can have people in the field, international aid workers who are tweeting updates,” says Janice Babineau, community manager for the Canadian Red Cross.

The community Babineau manages isn’t specific to any geographic location – she’s responsible for the organization’s presence online.

“We build our community before any disaster strikes so people know that we’re out there on social media, we’re out there sharing information.”

Babineau says Twitter was a critical line of communication during last summer’s flooding in Alberta.

She says the Canadian Red Cross saw its Twitter mentions increase by 1,400 per cent during the crisis.

The organization engaged the support of “trained digital volunteers” to respond to the overwhelming number of questions from those affected by the flooding or interested in making

The federally funded Canadian Safety and Security Program is evaluating the role virtual volunteerism can play in dealing with future disasters.

The program’s Social Media for Emergency Management project seeks to connect traditional forms of disaster response with social media users, says Philip Dawe of Defence Research and Development Canada’s Centre for Security Science.

“It was really about recognizing that there was . . . a gap between the two communities and figuring out collectively if there’s a way that we can close that gap,” says Dawe.

He says the project is a collaboration of virtual volunteers, emergency officials, first responders and non-governmental organizations.


CRHNet Conference – Regina, SK

Jim was a guest speaker at this Canadian Hazards Risk Network conference on November 7th.  An abstract of his presentation is a follows:

State of Emergency in the Big Land – Western Labrador

Do the names Cowboy Creek, Moose Head Lake, or Blueberry Hill resonate with you?  Probably not; these are locations in Western Labrador that went through a major forest fire in the summer of 2013. 

How about facing the following? – a 17,000 hectare forest fire, declaration of a State of Emergency, evacuation of the community, power failure, loss of cell and landline phone connections, closure of the main highways and railway, boil water advisory, sever smoke conditions, ditching of a water bomber – all inside 48 hours with temperatures in the 30°C range.

That’s what the mining community of Wabush, Newfoundland and Labrador faced in late June – early July 2013.

The community response was amazing with hundreds of volunteers working.  The business community provided bulldozers to create a huge firebreak, water bombers, helicopters, and an eight-train rail car fire response unit with 10 NFPA-trained firefighters and other resources.

Jim explained his role as the community public information officer and how this tiny town of less than 2000 people responded to the biggest emergency in the history of Western Labrador.

Jim had discussion with Colin Murray from Defence Research Canada about future possibilities:

LCol (Ret’d) Colin Murray and Jim at the CRHNet Conference

Following his Regina presentation, Jim spoke to York Region Emergency planners in King,  ON, about “Social Media inTimes of Disaster.”

Jim and York Region Emergency Manager, Guy Hall


Stories From The Edge
featuring: “So What Do I Say When Media Show Up?” by Jim Stanton

July, 2013

Article from The Aurora, Labrador City

‘We had a plan’

Published on July 8, 2013
Danette Dooley

Emergency preparedness helped keep Wabush residents safe during fires

Wabush residents returned to their homes on July 1, after wildfires in close proximity to their town caused a two-day evacuation.

Stanton - Town Hall

Jim Stanton, President of Stanton Associates in Labrador City – helped develop the emergency management plans for the town’s of Labrador City and Wabush. He said it is imperative that communities across Labrador have emergency plans in place for situations such as the forest fire in Lab West.

However, the man who helped develop the town’s emergency management plan said there’s a reason why the town remained on evacuation alert and a state of emergency continued after the residents return.

“We only need look at the tragedy in Arizona where those 19 firefighters were killed in a heartbeat when the fire turned on them,” said Jim Stanton, President of Stanton Associates, in Labrador City.

“That’s potentially something that could happen here. The fire could turn.”

“We (Town of Wabush) activated our plan. We got our emergency operations centre up and running. We got messages out to the community to let them know what’s happening,” Stanton said.

One of the keys to disaster management is to keep residents informed about what’s happening, Stanton noted.

“People are concerned, they wonder if they should evacuate, if their children are okay, if they have to leave, what do they take? They are concerned about their pets, they may want to know what will happen to their relative who is ambulatory… So we make sure we address all their concerns. And we got the Red Cross in and they did a phenomenal job.”

Stanton said when a decision was made to evacuate the residents of Wabush and to open a reception centre in Labrador City, over 1,800 people left the town voluntarily.

That’s 95 per cent of the town’s population, he said.

Not only did the plan include residents, but also their pets, Stanton said.

“We set up a pet reception centre and you should have seen the dogs at the arena. They had the run of the old ice surface. They were having a wonderful time… We had people come to take care of (the cats and dogs) and merchants kicked in. We just had such an abundance of resources come together to help.”

Within a 24-hour period, the town was dealing with an evacuation order, a boil-water advisory and the loss of its 911 and part of its phone system.

“If you didn’t have a plan, you’d be up to your eyeballs in alligators. But because we had a plan, everything went into action.”

Stanton said Ham radio operators (HOWL), local businesses and service groups and the Town of Labrador City offered a great deal of assistance to the residents of Wabush.

He relates a problem with the boil-order advisory that the town initially issued as an example of the cooperation between the towns.

“We found out the boil-water advisory was actually not what should have been issued because of the potential for contamination… water bombers had to take water from our water supply because the lakes they were going to get it from were too smoky and they couldn’t land. So, they scooped some water up from our water supply and the concern was that some lubricants might have gotten into the water.”

The boil-water advisory wouldn’t take care of that, Stanton said. Therefore, he said, residents were advised not to drink the water, brush their teeth or sponge bath small children in it.

VolunteersThe Town of Labrador City set up a water station in their arena so that once residents of Wabush were allowed back into their homes, they could get their water from a different source.

Stanton also commended the local cable station and other media for helping get the updates out.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary will be continuing escorts along the Trans Labrador Highway when it is deemed safe to do so.

When asked why the evacuation was voluntary rather than mandatory, Stanton said there is no such thing in Canada as mandatory evacuation. Such legislation is non-existent, he said.

“The issue has been raised before in other communities and the problem we encounter is about individual rights. It would require provincial legislation to create mandatory evacuation orders.” … but we evacuated 95 per cent of our town and it went as smooth as clockwork.”

Stanton Associates has been a leader in crisis management, emergency planning and media communications for two decades. According to its website (www.stantonassociates.ca), the company wrote the national public information standards for the Canadian government and assisted the U.S Department of Homeland Security in setting up social media as part of their on-going communications.

The organization also assisted organizations in managing their communications needs at such events as the crash of Swiss Air 111, Manitoba floods, SARS in Toronto, the Kananaskis G8 Summit and worked closely with the Province of British Columbia and the City of Vancouver to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Stanton believes the people who stayed behind in Wabush made the wrong decision. However, because of current laws, it’s their decision to make, he said.

Stanton said because Wabush is still under alert (as of press time), it’s too early to review the town’s emergency management plan. That will happen at a later date, he said.

“Every time you (put the plan into action) you want to make it better. We will be sitting down and reviewing what worked and what didn’t work and what lessons we’ve learned and we’ll go from there. We’ll update the plan and get ready for the next event.”

Kevin O’Brien, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Minister Responsible for Fire and Emergency Services-Newfoundland and Labrador, said the provincial government was pleased by the cooperation and professionalism shown by all those involved in the recent forest fire response in Labrador.

The Town of Wabush successfully managed the event, he said, and emergency management partners provided support as required.

“Countless times throughout Newfoundland and Labrador’s history we’ve seen how emergency management plans developed in advance of an event are an enormous asset,” the minister said.

A strong emergency management plan is one that is practiced and updated regularly, he said, so that many of the issues that could prevent a response from being carried out effectively are addressed and planned for in advance.

“To that end, by all measures, the forest fire and subsequent evacuation of Wabush were handled quickly and effectively. The state of emergency in the town remains in effect and the situation is being closely monitored.”

Wabush Media Advisories are available at www.labradorwest.com under the “What’s New” section at the top left of the page.

April, 2013


by Henk van Ess

Did Pope Francis play a major role in Argentina’s Dirty War? Reporters published photos of dictator Jorge Videla with a cardinal, allegedly with Jorge Bergoglio, the recently elected Pope Francis. But something was wrong with these reporters’ findings.
Henk van Ess explains how the internet can help you to debunk the internet.

The buzz started just hours after the waiting for the white smoke was over.

“New Pope has strong ties to Argentina’s old regime”, reporters tweeted. The claim originated from a 2011 story in The Guardian, The Sins of the Argentinian Church.

The link to the story was retweeted over and over again, without anyone questioned it. Blogs came with similar stories. Documentary maker Michael Moore forwarded a link to a photo of Videla, with a cardinal, allegedly, the new Pope. For some newspapers, like the Dutch Volkskrant, these tweets were sufficient to break the story. “Pope sparks controversy”, the newspaper wrote.

The next day, everybody had to correct his story. Moore withdrew his tweet, The Guardian corrected some false allegations about Jorge Bergoglio and Volkskrant apologized for using the wrong photos.

With the help of some basic internet research skills this never would have happened. Let’s debunk all four clues:

1. The Guardian story

The story came from the “Comment is free” section, the newspaper’s speaker’s corner.
It was not a factual story, but an opinion piece, that had been retweeted by the public.

2.  Many people retweeted the story

Social media reporters noticed many retweets of the story, lacking all criticism from those who produced the tweet. But if you search in Twitter for:

to:[name of source]

several concerns emerge. Usually, followers are the first to correct false tweets. Therefore, it makes sense to use to:@csvdr or @to:MMflint (Michael Moore) to find out if somebody warned the source of the story.

The number of retweets by itself, does not tell much about the credibility of a story.

Take, for example, a look at a fake amber alert, that was retweeted thousands of times:

3. Blogs

Blogs broke the news, like Consortium News.

Who is behind that source? I use this little Google trick to find sources that talk about the blog, but are not affiliated with it. Here’s how you do that:

If you type in the name of the site (in quote marks to search for that exact phrase) and then a minus sign followed by site:[sitename], you will subtract instances from the site you are searching about.

The writer is Robert Perry, who is self-proclaimed to have a serious problem “with millions of Americans brainwashed by the waves of disinformation“. His site wants to fight distortions from Fox News and “the hordes of other right-wing media outlets”. The blog constitutes mostly activism rather than journalism.

4. The pictures

Michael Moore corrected his tweet several hours after he had posted his original tweet. Without his correction, however, validation of the image would have been possible too. You can upload the specific photo – in this case, the alleged photo of the Pope and Videla, to Google Images and try to find the original source:

Google now presents a list of most popular search words in conjunction with the image. When I tried this on the exact day the Pope was presented, the words were different: corruption Argentina and church. This indicated the joker probably typed these words in Google to find the particular image that later sparked so much controversy.

To find the first date the photo was published or that Google indexed the photo, you can go back in time. You can order Google to show you only photos older than, say 2004:

Now you get to the original source, Getty Images. In the caption it says that Videla visited a church in Buenos Aires in 1990. The new Pope isn’t mentioned:

Now compare this with Pope’s Francis biography from the Vatican:

It says he was a spiritual director in Córdoba, 700 kilometres away from Buenos Aires. Sure, they have buses and trains and planes in Argentina, but normally local church leaders don’t travel that far.

Another tip now: always think “video” when you see a picture. Just type some words from the event in Google’s search engine. This will lead to a YoutubeHYPERLINK “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuI8xZjIuaY”-video of the same event as captured on the Getty photo.

Now you see both people from the Getty image, but this time they are moving.

If this is meant to be Pope Francis, it doesn’t make sense. Pope Francis was born December 17, 1936. Jorge Videla was born August 2, 1925. Videla is more then ten years older. In the Youtube video, the ages don’t seem to match.

Now that we have uncovered enough reason to doubt the original claim about Pope Francis, go for the final check. Probably more people discovered what you just found out. So, order Google now to search for fake photos:

false OR falsely OR fake photo “jorge videla” “jorge bergoglio”_

Don’t search in English, but go for Spanish and French. You can type in the words in English, Google translates the keywords and the hits are translated back into English.

The first hit leads to a source that claims that the Michael Moore photo is false:

Other keywords can be “not true”, hoax or blunder.

There you have it.

The Guardian amended its own story on March 14, 2013. The same day, the cardinal on the Getty photo was proven to be not the Pope. Nevertheless, newspapers broke the story the next day.

By doing some background research, this could have been avoided. Had proper fact-checking taken place, this story should not have been written in the first place.

Dutch-born Henk van Ess currently chairs the VVOJ, the Association of Investigative Journalists for The Netherlands and Belgium. Van Ess teaches internet research & multimedia/cross media at universities and news media in Europe. He is founder of VVOJMedialab and search engines Cablesearch.org or Facing Facebook. His current projects include crowdsourcing for news media, fact checking of social media and internetHYPERLINK “http://www.slideshare.net/searchbistro/” research for seasoned reporters.

February, 2013

I thought I would share a couple of interesting examples of developments in social media. First is a new app available from Google.

The second looks at how Coca Cola has adapted to the ever-changing world of social media.

Indoor Google Maps App Shows Floor Plans

Google released an updated mobile application (app) giving detailed floor plans for public buildings like malls, box stores, casinos, and even airports.

Indoor Google Maps was created to help people navigate unfamiliar locations, but it also gives a new free indoor mapping tool to emergency and public safety responders:


Indoor Maps is an addition to the Google Maps app that’s been available for some time. It shows your position as a small blue dot moving as you move through the landscape. If you are near or in a building with an available floor plan, it will show a detailed diagram – and can even show what level you are on within the building:


Google reports it has over 10,000 floor plans available with more being added. Floor plans can only be uploaded by businesses that own the rights to the plans, and can only include public areas. Excluded are secure areas (such as in airports), national defense locations, and dwellings:


Fire and public safety departments interested in incorporating this technology into pre-fire planning and drills should not assume the floor plans are current or updated regularly. Such indoor mapping technology should regularly be checked for accuracy.

The Challenge

How has Coke thrived in a social media world, ranking as the world’s most valuable brand and attracting the biggest Facebook fan base?

The following are their seven Social Media Rules for Success.

Research conducted in 2012 by the  firm of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing, indicates there has been one consistent finding:

“Consumers have shifted from being passive recipients of ‘push’ marketing/advertising, to selecting companies which engage, listen to, and act on, input from customers and prospects.”

Few have done this better than Coca Cola.

Born in the 19th Century, few brands have adapted better to the new media conditions of the20th and 21st Centuries. Coke now ranks as the most valuable brand in the world and the most followed on Facebook.

In a recent interview with Fortune, Coke Senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing, Wendy Clark, listed seven rules for success in social media:

1. “The number one thing Coke thinks about is being share worthy in everything we do. If we do our job of developing useful, compelling, interesting and share worthy content, our fans become our sales force for us.”

2. “Listen, then respond authentically and humanly. There are more than 15,000 tweets everyday on brand Coca-Cola; any that are questions, we answer. We have to. Consumers expect that we’re listening and responding.” Clark strives to achieve a flawless experience:

“You have to be awesome with your flaws, the things that aren’t perfect. You want to be human, to speak like a human and act like a human.”

3. “Think big. Start small. Scale fast.” Coke continually innovates, but it runs small tests before launching globally, analyzing results for learnings. “Because we’re built for scale, if we don’t get better at testing, learning and then scaling, we have the potential of scaling the wrong thing perfectly.”

4. “Social media is not a silver bullet but it can make everything else better. Coke thinks in terms of ideas and campaigns that are social (share-worthy) at their core and then we think about how we can amplify the ideas and campaigns. Social media works together with other media but does not replace them.”

5. “Content is the new currency. The world is not suffering from lack of content. With this in mind, content creation has to be useful, interesting, important, shareworthy.”

6. “We might be shepherds, stewards and guardians of our brands, but we no longer control them.”

7. “Think of your constituents as storytellers. 10-20% of the content and conversation on our brands comes from us. The other 80%+ comes from others.”

Coke’s Results:

1. World’s number 1 brand.

2. Coke: 56.8 million fans on Facebook (#1); more than half a million fans talking about content per day.

3. Coke’s social media fans are twice as likely to be a consumer and 10 times as likely to purchase Coke as non-fans.

January, 2013

Social Media

Since 2007, I have been an advocate of using social media as a communications tool during “normal” times and times of uncertainty. For two years I wrote a blog for govtech.com.

In 2009 I was flown to Washington DC to speak to the US Department of Homeland Security about how they could begin to use social media a a communications tool. I assisted them in setting up their Facebook and Twitter programs.

The purpose of this blog is to bring readers up to date on some of the current trends and directions of the new media.

The armed forces have been early adapters of the new media, one interesting development has been the use of blogs by military dependents to share common experiences when spouses are overseas. Military.com sponsors a session titled “Militaryville – the Audience You Didn’t Know You Could Have.” This session features a panel of military spouses who started blogging as a form of therapy when their spouses were deployed. In time they discovered they had significant followings. The trick at that point was how to develop executions that would allow them to reach their entire potential audiences. The lessons they’ve learned will benefit any blogger.

Peter Weeber and his team in the Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii) used Facebook as a powerful communications tool, during the recent tsunami incident.

Here’s a recent message from Peter to the community Facebook site:

“Hello everyone, the activation of the emergency plan and evacuation went well last night. The community has a great emergency management team in place. We are still working on ways to improve communications and the initial tsunami warning. A tsunami siren will be installed near the Spirit Square by the end January to assist with emergency notifications. A reception centre was set up last night at the Ministry of Forests for those who did not have a place to go.”

“We currently have an agreement with CFNR 97.1 to broadcast situation updates live so please ensure you have a battery powered radio so you can stay connected if the power is out. If you have a smart phone you can also get mobile information on the Facebook Village of Queen Charlotte Emergency Network and the Emergency Management BC mobile app:


“It is important to remember that our success during a emergency is dependant on your ability to stay connected and take care of yourself while we assess the risk and coordinate information and resources.”

According to blogworld.com, a recent survey of tech buyers found that a whopping 95% use at least one social media site and that exposure to a product on that site had a positive effect on their likelihood to purchase among 44%. Social media is helping brands build trust, loyalty and brand recognition, among other measurable benefits. Ninety-two percent of global consumers say they trust earned media above all other forms of advertising.

blog.aids.gov anticipate the next big thing is the use of new media and emerging technologies to support HIV/AIDS and other health care efforts, they asked experts and thought leaders across the U.S. Federal and private sectors to predict the trends to watch in 2013. Here are some of those predictions:

1. More and more individuals and organizations will declare that new media and emerging technologies are critical in helping them to connect, create, listen, learn, and engage, and will ask their stakeholders and/or clients for ideas on how new media and emerging technologies may help extend the reach of their HIV/AIDS program.

2. In 2013, people will increase their connection to their health through the use of mobile apps such as the iStayHealthy app for people living with HIV which allows users to track medications, set reminders, and chart the effects of HIV treatment on their health.

3. Agencies and organizations will increasingly put a face to their messages by sharing photos and images. They will also continue to explore infographics to share information.

Stay tuned as I provide updates and insights into the amazing, dynamic, ever-changing world of social media. My next blog will focus on Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

Remember to “expect the unexpected.”

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