Eat, Breathe, and Misinform on Social Media

December 18, 2012

Chaos and tragedy shine harsh lights on our 24-hour, always connected, social media world. NPR, which isn’t immune to reporting false or misleading information in the early moments of chaos and tragedy, had a pretty good report this morning on the latest example, the Sandy Hook Shootings.

It was journalistic bedlam.

Some news outlets signaled their mistakes and that stories were shifting; others glossed over them with updated information, as though they had held the facts all along. But it led to a dizzying sense of impermanence to any description of what had actually transpired.

“A guy was misidentified as a mass murderer,” said Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed, which straddles the worlds of traditional news outlets and social media platforms. “That’s horrendous.”

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The best part of the piece was when they talked to David Cullen, author of the book Columbine, which is viewed by many as the definitive account of that tragedy. It took Cullen 10 years to research and write that book, which discredited many of the beliefs held by the media and the public. In fact, as Cullen said on NPR, ” . . . the media had established to its own satisfaction exactly why the teens turned into killers within just a few days.” It’s always a good policy to allow the media to shape your opinions.

I understand the need to be first, to rush into chaos, and to report on it. However, you need to remember that in the early hours, or even days, of a tragedy, a lot of what you read, hear, or retweet is just plain wrong. If it is found on social media outlets, how is that information corrected? Oh, wait, it is just part of the mind numbing stream and it’s sure to be missed.

Link: NPR: Coverage Rapid, And Often Wrong, In Tragedy’s Early Hours