PROVO, Utah (ABC4 News) – A new fact-based website, ProvoRumorStop.com, launched Thursday morning for the city of Provo. The goal of the website is to dispel community misinformation by directing citizens to a credible source online.
After the recent protest shootings in downtown Provo, police and city officials found themselves not only in the middle of an active shooting investigation but also on the frontlines of a social media misinformation firestorm.
The website has topic-based image galleries that are easily shareable. The fact-based graphics are meant to be shared through social media to help ‘set the record straight’.
“Social media is a powerful tool for government communications given its ability to quickly reach a large audience. It’s when the information being shared is in fact misinformation that it can become a challenge for cities, and in our case, a potential public safety issue,” said Nicole Martin, Provo City’s public information officer.
“Police-community relationships are too important to Provo’s public safety and quality of life to allow false rumors and misinformation to undermine community goodwill and trust built up over decades,” said Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi.
Provo Police Chief Rich Ferguson found the false rumor of Mayor Kaufusi issuing a stand-down order to police to be an unnecessary distraction during the investigation.
“We’re dealing with one of the more significant incidents I’ve seen in thirty years and the biggest thing I’m hearing is that the Mayor told us to stand down on the Monday protest. That’s absolutely false. Flat-out lie. It did not happen,” says Ferguson.
Mayor Kaufusi says she hopes the website and other efforts will help the public regain confidence in the safety of their community.
“Provo City has a well-deserved reputation as one of the safest cities in the nation—this incident does not change that. What it does is offer opportunity for improvement,” says Kaufusi. “Public safety is your top concern and when that feels threatened you want and are entitled to timely, accessible answers. Our hope is by having 24/7 accessibility to facts, with a community motivated to help us combat damaging rumors, we can quickly squash false rumors and provide the facts necessary for a civil, solutions-based conversation.”
Martin mentions that after the recent protests, the Mayor and city council were flooded with angry emails and phone calls, along with hundreds of social media comments, most of which were continuing to spread misinformation.
“The frustration and daunting communication challenge is that misinformation grows and feeds on itself exponentially unless a city can find efficient and effective ways to quickly combat it,” says Martin. “Responding one-on-one, even with the best intentions, will fail due to a simple lack of resources leaving citizens rightfully frustrated, confused and most importantly, potentially unsafe. Technology in this case can hopefully help restore some measure of comfort by providing information and answering questions.”
ProvoRumorStop.com will launch Thursday at 9 a.m. with a Facebook Live with Mayor Kaufusi and Chief Rich Ferguson.