There is a lot of noise on social media and it can be hard for users to differentiate between fact and fiction. It can be equally as hard for organizations, more specifically news organizations, to navigate in the ever-changing and fast-paced world of social media.
I worked in a newsroom between 2006 and 2011, when social media was at first seen as the “enemy” and then slowly transformed into a “resource.” It used to be that news organizations wanted to be “first” on the air or in print. That could have taken a number of hours. Now it’s a number of minutes or even seconds. So, how can organizations still be “first” while aiming for accuracy? Unfortunately, there’s no easy solution.
Organizations still need to verify information and “think” before they post or tweet information. Just as with traditional media, organizations need to look at the source of the information. Many social networks, including Twitter and Facebook, have “verified” accounts, indicated with blue check marks. This can help organizations vet the source, depending on the type of information. But as we’ve seen in the past, a random person can break a news story.
Does the Osama Bin Laden raid ring a bell? That first broke on social media from a man inadvertently tweeting from a home nearby. We didn’t learn about it from a “verified source” until hours later. I think it’s important for news organizations to chime in on situations like this, but not post unconfirmed information. Maybe tweeting something like: “We are working to confirm this…” or “We don’t have all the facts yet, but are expecting an official statement on (insert topic) in the next few hours.”
I remember during the aftermath of the Newtown School Shooting Tragedy, a lot of false information was being spread on social media. Many news organizations reported the wrong name, on social media and in traditional media (on air). When releasing names during such a serious situation, news organizations need to use the traditional forms of confirmation, because the damage can be done so quickly on social media.
When information is published incorrectly, I think organizations need to acknowledge it, but then remove it. Some people may think this is unethical, but I see it as trying not to spread even more false information. This way, if the organization acknowledges it (on the specific post), those who have liked it, commented on it, or followed it can be made aware, and then it can be removed so no one else reads it as the truth.
I do think audiences are more forgiving in the social media world, mainly because of the fast pace. What appears in someone’s newsfeed one minute, is gone the next. In a breaking news situation, it is important to keep people aware of what is fact and what may have been a mistake. Owning up to a mistake will go a long way with users, but I think preventing those mistakes to begin with will go even further.