For every good, there is a bad. For every yin, there is a yang. For every wonderful aspect of the social media world that allows information to travel at the speed of light across the world, there is a negative aspect that creeps in and makes us question the validity of it all.
Yesterday saw two glaring examples of this. First, What’s Trending, a (former) partner of CBS News that covered the latest and greatest on the internet, tweeted out that Apple Co-Founder Steve Jobs had died. Then, hackers took over the NBC News Twitter account and declared that Ground Zero had been attacked by a hijacked plane.
Both events caused a tsunami of internet activity despite neither lasting more than a few minutes. In the “now world” in which we live, what can people do to know what’s real and what’s false?
Never a Single Source
The beautiful part of the real-time news world is that the “watchers” are always watching. Journalists have found a gold mine in Twitter that allows them to find leads and explore them further. When Michael Jackson died, TMZ broke the story. Most on the internet waited until a more credible news source corroborated the information before getting too moved by it, but everyone watched.
In the cases yesterday, both sources were considered credible. Both should continue to be considered credible. One mistake/hack is not enough to truly shed full doubt. Mistakes happen. Hacks happen. The key for all of us out there who rely on Twitter and other real-time social media sources for our news is to wait for additional reports.
Yesterday demonstrated that despite the credibility of a source, we should always reserve judgment for the other watchers to step in. A good journalist will find multiple sources and/or check the information out for themselves. Despite NBC being such a strong source, no other news outlets reported it until they checked to see if it was valid. This is the way it should be and it’s the safeguard we have against rampant misinformation spreading through the real-time channels.
People will retweet on first indication. This happens all the time, particularly with the rashes of celebrity death news that pops up like dormant herpes every time it gets irritated. Before believing anything on the internet, look to see if it’s real. Don’t be part of the problem by retweeting big news just because you want to be the first of your friends to post it.
The internet, social media, and real-time news aggregation are wonderful things that are vulnerable based upon their very nature. What’s real and what’s false are often indistinguishable. We have to (somewhat) trust in journalists to get the story right in the long run. Thankfully, thanks to technology, the “long run” is normally minutes or hours compared to the “old days” a couple of decades ago when it could be days before the stories were confirmed.