What is Wednesday- What are the Pros and Cons of Social Media in a Crisis Situation

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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?

Katie Snyder
Katie Snyder
A former HMA Public Relations employee.


  1. Scott Hanson says:

    The Gabby Giffords shooting was the first time I remember when the media was set on getting it first rather than getting it right.

  2. Katie says:

    I recall during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting several news stations named the wrong person as the shooter.


  3. Abbie S. Fink says:

    Social media is a powerful tool to get information out. But in the interest of being first, I’m afraid we’re forgetting about getting it right. It is hard to run a retraction on Twitter.

  4. As another “source” for the media, you would think that they would check out these sources as they do in any interview. Getting it right should be number one priority. As you said Abbie, you can’t print a retraction on Twitter.

  5. Deb Dobson says:

    I think we all have the responsibility of fact-checking. Not just traditional media, but those of us on social media platforms. Social media is a great communication tool, and the speed at which we communicate is both good and bad. If we don’t fact check and simply broadcast what we see in order to be first, well, we run the risk of causing more harm than good.

  6. Barb Maack says:

    In 1981, when President Reagan and James Brady were shot, ABC News first reported that Brady had been killed. The news anchor, Frank Reynolds, was loudly and visibly outraged on-air that they had reported Brady’s death before confirming the facts. Of course, that was before social media. Personally, I’d love to see the same kind of outrage over these regular “get it first” errors. No kidding, Abbie. Retractions aren’t much help on Twitter.

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