Facebook page causes panic by livestreaming old tsunami footage

MANILA, Philippines – A Facebook page livestreaming old footage of a tsunami in Japan draws the ire of netizens, as they initially thought the events in the video were happening in real time and that there was a tsunami in Japan. 

The Facebook page in question, "Newsroom," started to simultaneously stream the 3 videos at around noon on Wednesday, January 24, running for around 4 hours. In that span of time, the videos managed to amass a total of around 4.5 million views, and 70,000 shares  at the time of writing.

While the videos ran for a significant amount of time, the videos were actually just looped clips running for around 10 minutes before repeating. The fact that they were labeled "live" and that they were published with captions such as "Meanwhile in Japan", "Yokohama!" and "Tsunami in Japan!" had the effect of making some netizens believe that there was indeed a tsunami happening in Japan right now. 

The timing of the streaming of the said videos is also questionable as the United Nations just announced that the Pacific Ring of Fire is in activity – a potential cause for earthquakes and possibly, tsunamis. The Ring of Fire is a string of 452 volcanoes and other seismic sites around the edges of the Pacific Ocean.

Among these sites, volcanoes in the Philippines and Japan erupted while Indonesia and Alaska experienced significant quakes. No tsunami has been reported however during the run of the videos. 

Pacific Ring of Fire active today. #switch2sendai #earthquake #volcano - PH : Mayon Volcano erupted, 1,000s evacuees - Japan: Volcano causes avalanche, one death - Indonesia: 5.3 earthquake jolts Jakarta, buildings swayed - Alaska: 7.9 Magnitude earthquake led to tsunami alert. pic.twitter.com/q1rz0Dbvxr — UNISDR (@unisdr) January 23, 2018

Netizens were angry when they eventually realized that the Facebook page had been grossly misleading with their live videos. The page tried to pass off the videos as real live footage of a tsunami that was currently happening even though they were not, which means it was an act of spreading fake news.

One said she'll be unfollowing the page: "If this is old, you guys AREN'T NEWS and I'm unfollowing you!". Another emphasized that it was an old video: "THIS IS OLD VIDEO!!!!! THIS IS NOT CURRENT AND IS NOT FROM THE ALASKA QUAKE". 

"Newsroom why would you post this old video! This is not happening right now. People honestly care even if it’s across the globe. This is not ok!," still another commenter went. Some have also said to report the page for posting the videos. 

As pointed out in the comments too, the posting of the videos in such a manner was wildly irresponsible, and is a prime example of the disinformation that may spread on Facebook. While there were sharp eyes that saw through the ruse, there were also a lot who believed that the video was real, triggering panic. (READ: Tagging fake news on Facebook has minimal effect – study)

The incident is yet another prime example of Facebook's continuing role as a platform on which fake news spreads fast. Facebook has always said they're improving measures, but if this sort of thing can garner millions of views in just a few hours, clearly there is much left for Facebook to do. – Rappler.com

Gelo Gonzales

Gelo Gonzales is Rappler’s technology editor. He covers consumer electronics, social media, emerging tech, and video games.

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