Yesterday's near panic over incorrect warnings that a tornado was due to hit Gauteng was fanned by the mass communication made possible by SMS and e-mail.
Brett Myroff, MD of Sophos distributor NetXactics, explains that the ability for people to communicate rapidly and with many people via SMS and e-mail fed the panic and made the situation worse.
"The fact that a large number of people received the 'warning' and then heard others talking about it increased the perception that it was true," he says.
While there is no "official" name for the kind of syndrome seen yesterday, Myroff says its probably not spam in the true sense but actually leans more towards the new trend of "citizen journalism".
In a real emergency, or as a warning about genuine events or phenomena, the medium of citizen journalism via SMS and e-mail could be a valuable tool, he says – as long as people have a way of recognising that the warnings are real.
"This kind of mass communication would be great for real emergencies – however it needs to be controlled and regulated," says Myroff.
"It would need to emanate from a credible source such as the police of city council. And citizens would need to register for the service so they can ensure that any warnings are genuine."