From the Editor: Social media, meet journalism

by JAMIE VERWYS

Many of us saw the same images and eye witness accounts of the attacks on Paris on November 13. A complex mix of sadness, anger, fear, support and suspicion were the forefront of media outlets and quickly spread across the Internet.

While we all may have our own separate thoughts and concerns about the tragedy, chances are most of us got our information from the same place, Facebook.

Social media is a part of the daily ritual of thousands of people around the world, so it makes sense that users quickly started tweeting and honing in on the ability a site like Facebook had to send them to the heart of the chaos.

Everyone has every right to go online and inform themselves about what is going on in the world. People should have quick and responsive spaces to talk about their feelings and gain support. Nothing is quicker or more visible than social media, and it’s almost guaranteed you will receive a little token of comfort in a “like” validating your feelings.

Sure. Social media has some beneficial offerings in obtaining up to the minute updates, images, videos and personal stories. We need to remember, just because we read it first on Facebook, doesn’t mean it’s true. A lot of misinformation has been produced about large tragedies by social media.

With the recent attack on France, rumors both harmless and more than a little dangerous became viral in matters of moments.

A Twitter user made a claim that the lights on the Eiffel Tower had been turned off for the first time since 1889 in light of the attack. The photo and false statement took the fast track around the globe and quickly spread as a public symbol of respect. Even some journalists and news outlets picked up on the tweet and reported it.

Turns out the whole thing was some kind of social ‘I told you so’ experiment by Twitter user @ProfJeffJarvis, who wanted to show how quickly information can be spread and accepted. The Eiffel Tower lights are turned off for many occasions and dimmed regularly, as in every day.

A French soccer player was “sighted” rescuing someone from the attacks, identified by Twitter users, incorrectly. The same “Where’s Waldo?” game happened on Reddit in 2013 during the Boston Marathon bombing, when users began to speculate on the identity of the bomber and incorrectly accused people.

As long as the Internet exists, there will always be room for misinformation to zip out to millions of people every day. Social media has become entwined in almost every facet of our lives, and will continue to play a large role in the face of the tragedies.

Regardless of the advice to distrust the media to cover these topics, I urge you to look to reputable journalists who have ensured the highest level of accuracy in their reporting. In this very issue, one of your peers takes a look at current world affairs, so check out the Insight page for more details.

You can get on your Facebook and talk about how all this craziness in our world makes you feel but remember this. On social media, you share information and apologize for a mistake later. A journalist ensures accuracy first, then shares information.

Enjoy the issue.

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