In a world where everyone is rushing to be the first to break news its time we decide that being right is more important than being quick.
While much has been said concerning CNN and Fox reporting errors concerning the Healthcare ruling last week I’d like to examine a local example from this past weekend in hopes of raising our collective awareness and responsibility.
Just the Facts Please
Last night news began to break concerning a wildfire near one of my state’s flagship state parks, Mt. Magazine. Arkansas is under a severe drought and seemingly everyone is hyper aware of the fire danger we currently face so news of this type spread very quickly.
To my knowledge the news of the fire hit twitter around 8:30 via @KATVheather. Within a few moments @KATV_weather was also following the story. Then at 9pm and again at 10:40pm @ARscanning posted 2 photos reportedly from the Mt. Magazine fire. You can see the full timeline of these posts below
My eagle-eyed friend @chad_gardner fired up google and easily found both of the images posted online.
Thankfully this wasn’t a matter of life and death and the reports were mostly harmless and quickly refuted. No harm done this time so let’s figure out what went wrong so we can be part of the solution.
It’s a Matter of Trust
@ARscanning is an anonymous account that began to gain traction a few months ago. Most of the tweets seem to be from an individual sitting and listening to a police scanner. The account has no real name, no face, no affiliation, and no website. I’m sure the individual behind the account has good intentions but the fact remains if you trust an account like this for verifiable news you need your head examined. It’s akin to taking stock market reports from a stranger wearing a hood on the street corner. So while the Arkansas Times commenters decry this as an example of why Twitter is a broken rumor mill I’d challenge that it is a failure of common sense.
However, what happened last night was not simply an issue of @ARscanning.’s reports. Yes, the community conscience should hold them responsible for posting inaccurate information but the larger issue is that trusted reporters and journalists started retweeting the account.
Here is the essence of the issue:
If you trust @ARscanning it is your own fault. If you are a trusted reporter and you help spread this inaccurate information without doing due diligence you are just as culpable.
We find an example of getting it right via our own social media juggernaut Mr. Todd Yakoubian, @KATV_weather. He saw the reports and instead of automatically forwarding them he used his resources and called the source of the news to verify what was happening. This in my mind is a perfect example of the value that traditional media can bring to social media. The average Joe doesn’t have contacts and resources to follow-up on a report in a timely manner so we place our trust in proven organizations that do.
To be fair the organizations/people that shared this info quickly corrected the info but they had already given the info their stamp of approval.
I’d like to add that Central Arkansas is blessed to have some incredibly active journalists and reporters as part of our Twitter community. This is not intended to condemn anyone or any organization, just a reminder that we need your skills more than ever.
You have one currency; Trust. Don’t spend it lightly.
How can the average user help?
- Remember the golden rule – Just because you read it on the internet doesn’t make it true.
- Crisis Communications is too important to become a rumor mill. If you see “breaking” news tip a trusted reporter and ask them to follow up.
- Take a tip from @acarvin and add the words “unconfirmed” to your tweet or ask for the source of the information.