Today, we can get news just about anywhere–including some of our favorite social media sites. In fact, it seems that nowadays, when a major crisis erupts, it’s only a matter of seconds before the news of what is or isn’t happening is plastered across social media sites everywhere. While many of us rely on these sources to keep us informed throughout our day, we also don’t question the validity of what we are reading or hearing.
In the most recent of tragedies, we have seen how social media has reported both truths and unsubstantiated rumors that have both helped and hindered police investigations. From reporting false identities to pranks, even trusted news authorities have been caught with their tails between their legs, repeating falsehoods, ultimately putting law enforcement and civilians in harm’s way.
Yesterday’s shootout with ex-LAPD officer, Chris Dorner was no different. While listening to the situation unfold live, I saw several different sources report different accounts of what was happening on Twitter. Between the hoaxes and misinformation, it turned what was already a crisis situation into an even more dangerous situation.
It got me thinking–have we forgotten the importance of fact-checking? And has the notion of “being first” become more important than “being accurate?”
Don’t get me wrong, social media in crisis situations isn’t all bad. There are pros. This speedy form of communication often does deliver accurate information in real time to our computers and cell phones, but that doesn’t mean you believe everything you see or hear. As a media professional and a knowledgeable human being, you still have an obligation to fact check and contact reliable sources when there’s breaking news, and not just repeat what is hearsay.
Do you think social media helps or hinders the spread of accurate information during breaking news?