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Watch out, tourists! The world of web is as useful as it is fake. Fake news bring success and attention to their authors, plus a lot of advertisement. They can be about any aspect of our life and the world around us. When they are about volcanoes and their phenomena, it is a problem. If you are going to book a holiday in a place close to a volcano, be very careful of what you read and how you understand it. Just start with three basic rules: read beyond the title; read the text twice or more; if you have doubts go check some words, sentences or call telephone numbers. Get informed!

Fake news about volcanoes on crazy socials

“Can you smell the smoke? This must be Mount Etna’s lava!”, this is what a tourist REALLY said, one day. It could not have been strange if she were at the foot of the craters, 3000 meters asl. But  the lady was walking in a town’s square, instead, 40 km away from the volcano. Besides … the lava smells like sulfur, not like just smoke!

If the lady had written that text on a social media she would have spread two fake news: the wrong smell of lava and the crazy idea you could smell it 40 km away from the volcano. Crazy news are everyday on the socials. And sometimes, deceived by their sources, also national newspapers give voice to fake information about volcanic phenomena.

For example, volcanoes emit gas or ash, they do not “smoke”; lava fountains can sometimes exceed 900 meters but never “9000 meters” in height, as an online newspaper recently reported about Etna! Sure, it is possible that some burning stone falls close to the crater. But it can never happen that the same stone arrives, still on fire!, in the square of a village 40 km away from the volcano. Yet this has been also written!

How to recognize fake news

fake news 02
volcanic hot bombs do not fall in your backyard!

Fake news must create “scoop, shock” so they are already exaggerated from the start. If something seems “too much”, stop and think and then go check. Does your friend tell you, on the phone, to smell the lava from Aci Trezza? Go and see on the maps where Aci Trezza is located. Is it ever possible to smell something that is tens of kilometers away?

Do you read on the web that “they are evacuating Bronte or Catania” because of the lava (yes, this was also written)? If you are curious or worried about relatives or friends, get the contacts of the local police, or municipal offices, and ask directly those who are on the spot. Try not to trust too much even those who  are experiencing the eruptive event live. Sometimes emotion plays tricks and makes people say things inflated to excess (“here it’s raining everything”, “books fall from the shelves with every roar”, “the lava is a hundred meters from home”) . Once again contact the authorities instead and let yourself be reassured by them.

Some eruptive events are so strange and anomalous that they may sound like fake news themselves, even if they are true. Recently, some people have criticized Youtube videos of Etna.  They said: “If  that volcano has been erupting since February, where is all this lava going? Are you kidding us?”. In fact, Etna has been erupting for months, almost without interruption, but these are eruptions with little lava and a lot of ash. So no, in this case there is no fake news!

The importance of the INGV

There is a much more practical and simpler way to understand what happens in a volcanic area without falling into the trap of fake news. A method even quicker than calling the local authorities. Follow the websites of the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology (the national one or the local ones, for example in Catania or Naples).

On these sites, geologists and volcanologists follow volcanic events constantly, even with localized webcams and graphics easy to understand. And they explain things in real time. For those who do not like technical language much, there is also the BLOG, which -with easy communication- will dismantle all the fake news of those who try to make a show about people’s fears and lack of competence. (PHOTOS BY GRAZIA MUSUMECI)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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