Coondoo Bridge flood panic

By Senior Constable Mick Emery

If there was one lesson reinforced to me during February, it’s that you can’t believe everything you read on social media. In fact, you almost can’t believe anything you read on social media!

The ‘epic’ February flooding of the mighty Coondoo Creek (or lack thereof) was an interesting case study on what happens when some people can’t find the information they are after – and the answer seems to be: just make stuff up!

As in previous years, as soon as there were more than two days of rain in a row the excitement grew for Gympie-bound commuters as they eyed off the rising height of the creek – all hopeful for just one thing: a day off work or school.

For one agonising day, the hopes of the creek justifying a ‘day off’ rose and fell as quickly as the height of the creek itself.

Yet that one day turned out to be a roller coaster ride for the community, courtesy of some well-meaning but ill-informed social media posts. Purporting to have all the ‘facts’ as to whether the bridge was open or closed, some armchair experts only contributed to confusion.

You can probably picture me eating popcorn and scrolling through the comments – raising my eyebrows every time I read a comment like “the bridge is closed” or “Council is shutting the bridge at 3pm” – knowing that there had been no such closure. I found myself shouting “that’s fake news!” like I was some American politician at election time.

To be fair – in the midst of all the rumours – many people also simply posted a photo of the bridge and the time they went over: information that was factual, timely and helpful.

What was not helpful was the unqualified statements and speculation – which only contributed to panic and rushed decisions. Armed with little more than rumour and misinformation, some made the premature decision to self-evacuate back from Gympie early. You might say they had a ‘premature evacuation’…

Then – predictably – as the waters receded, many then played the ‘blame game’ on social media: keyboard warriors providing their expert opinion on how better decisions could have been made (everyone has 20/20 vision in hindsight).

Some people just need to build a bridge and get over it.

Which is, of course, exactly what’s happening! The whole ‘Coondoo issue’ will soon be a thing of the past – but inevitably other emergencies will arise. The whole point of this article is to urge caution with respect to making decisions based on a social media feed.

Nature will continue to serve up natural disasters and – unfortunately – they will be inconvenient! It is in times like these that emergency services will need to get factual messages out, and I would simply urge people to seek ‘official’ sources of information, rather than Chinese whispers…

Stay safe.