Domestic Affairs

Only rapid response can quash rumors

By Ouping (
Updated: 2011-03-23 14:06
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Major disasters are often followed by rumors. As panic buying of iodized salt eased in China, another wave of gossip began to bubble among the public that the country's seafood has been polluted by Japan's nuclear contamination.

Which, after the State Oceanic Administration's repeated tests, again proved to be, well, just rumors.

Which begs another question: How did the rumors emerge in the first place?

In the face of catastrophe people tend to feel small, vulnerable and helpless. And when the situation is uncertain, the absence of authentic information through authoritative channels compounds their anxiety, leaving them susceptible to rumors.

Also, in the information era, when modern technology has brought great convenience to the rapid flow of information, rumors can spread like a virus through Web portals, micro-blogging, mobile phones and other new media within seconds, bringing fear and disrupting normal life. Once out of control, they can trigger mass panic and put people's lives, economic development and social stability at great risk.

East China's Zhejiang province has set an example in the fight against rumors.

After a rumor that iodized salt can help prevent nuclear radiation sparked frantic buying on March 16, the health authorities immediately released information to the public that said eating iodized salt will not help prevent nuclear radiation. On the same day, a hotline, 96301, was set up for people who had any questions about radiation hazards. Then mobile phone users received messages the following day from the local environmental protection department saying that radiation levels were normal. Within 48 hours, the panic buying stopped.

Zhejiang's measures to alleviate before completely stamping out people's panic provided us with "a 48-hour course of social management," as some experts said. If more local authorities had been armed with such rapid response capabilities and public service awareness, the nationwide panic buying of salt would perhaps not have gone so wild.

The panic sparked by the Japanese nuclear power plant crisis should not have been so serious, and the rumors about nuclear contamination were not even worth refuting. As long as the general public is offered authoritative information without delays, fear will have no place.