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Recently I’ve been thinking a lot of about Twitter and social media and how it affects the way we take in information.
What got me thinking about this was the events on Monday at the Boston Marathon. Almost immediately after the bombs had gone off, my timeline was flooded with tweets about what had happened. What I saw was both amazing and, at times, frustrating.
The amount of news that poured in was staggering. There were so many accounts of what happened and getting updates out to people in the area. I’ve seen things like this happen before on Twitter. Getting breaking news out there is one of the best things about social media, in my opinion.
However, there were a few things showing the downside of social media and breaking news that stuck out to me. Throughout the day, I saw many incidents of incorrect information being passed off as fact. I saw tweets from the credible (CNN) to the less-than-credible (New York Post) say contradictory things, mostly regarding a possible suspect and the amount of people killed in the attack.
There have been other incidents of people jumping the gun on breaking news, trying to get the scoop first. Last year, for instance, a student news organization at Penn State University reported that former coach Joe Paterno had died. This was picked up by CBS and other news agencies. It was also wrong.
Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, tweeted out, speaking about the false reports of Paterno’s death at the time.
“Getting it first is (almost) never about the users. But it’s always about the journalists,” Rosen tweeted.
In our world right now with Twitter and Facebook, there is a push to get information out fast, but it’s more important to be correct than first.
The main focus of journalists should be getting the facts and reporting those facts, even if it means their story isn’t the first one out there. Of course reporters should want to get breaking news out fast, but fact-checking and quality reporting shouldn’t be sacrificed.
I can’t remember who said it, but last year a journalist told me that readers won’t care if your story is first if it’s the best. I didn’t really realize how true those words were till today. No one is going to scroll through old Twitter posts to see who was the first person to say a bomb had gone off. But there are plenty of people who will remember the reporters and news sources that have tweeted out information that later is proven to be incorrect.
An even worse case of incorrect information being tweeted out was seen last year when Spike Lee retweeted what he believed to be the address of the man police accused of killing Trayvon Martin. That’s a pretty bad thing to do anyway, as he was basically encouraging people to take the law into their hands, but it gets worse when you find out the address was wrong. The people who lived there were a 70-year-old couple.
Some people seem to have put a bigger focus on getting the word out first when it comes to breaking news than actually being sure that their information is correct.