R.I.P. Justin Bieber.
And LeBron James, Charlie Sheen, Adele, Will Smith and many others.
These are just a few of the many celebrities “killed” multiple times by Twitter hoaxes every year. These false celebrity deaths frequently reach “United States Trend” or “World Wide Trend” status. Justin Bieber alone has been Twitter assassinated three times within the past four months.
While this may sound trivial, it is a prime example of the flawed nature of social media. On one hand, social media has the power to disseminate to and gather news from a diverse, globalized audience like no other organization on the planet. On the other, it can just as easily start and perpetuate false news. Because of this, it has helped drive competition among traditional media outlets to provide immediate updates on real-time events and produced an environment in which timeliness trumps accuracy. The balance between Getting It Right and Getting It First is clearly out of whack.
Read before you Tweet
The disaster that can only loosely be called “journalism” that took place during the Boston bombings has already largely been covered. Articles in The Atlantic, NPR podcases, and a simple “Sigh.” tweeted by The Columbia Journalism Review did a great job of summing up the problems surrounding the reporting of the bombings. However, there is a growing trend that many have not noticed—voices crying out “Stop! Enough!” as journalists and social media continue to destroy rules and practices that have long been established.
These voices, though still in the minority, are gaining traction as they denounce the knee-jerk reactions from social and traditional media. People are simply tired of being fed incorrect information and watching broadcasts with constantly changing accounts of events. Two distinct examples of this push came out of the Boston bombings.
Journalists and non-journalists alike took to Twitter to urge caution and rationality as news unfolded after the bombings and during the search for the suspects. They asked netizens on all social media platforms to withhold information as it was verified and prevent the spread of falsities. They even acted as examples for others by remaining quiet on Twitter while fact checking.
It's worth noting that news from the Boston Marathon is still in the breaking stage. Try to avoid speculation. Much is unconfirmed
— Digital District (@DigitalDistrict) April 15, 2013
What we truly know right now is this is horrible. But be careful about retweeting things people think they know.
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) April 15, 2013
I will not be RTing graphic photos. I will try to be judicious in RTing in general. Sorry if I am relatively quiet then…
— ana marie cox (@anamariecox) April 15, 2013
CNN wildly speculating about al-Qaeda and hydrogen peroxide devices while Fox interviews Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Great job, cable news.
— Matt Ford (@fordm) April 15, 2013
— Lizz Schumer (@Eschumer) April 15, 2013
This trend can also be seen outside of the journalism sphere. On Monday, #Muslims was trending in the U.S. Many users assumed this was caused by an influx of anti-Islamic tweets. The true cause? Non-Muslims and Muslims were defending Islam and, again, urging caution before making assumptions about the cause of the bombings. These tweets were the vast majority regarding Muslims that day, disregarding one Fox News contributor. They were calm voices in the chaos telling people to hold judgments until the facts came out.
— Jenan Moussa (@jenanmoussa) April 15, 2013
Islam teaches nothing about committing hateful acts of terrorism. Terrorists do these things, not Muslims.
— benji (@thebenjimusic) April 15, 2013
The non-muslims who are supporting us Muslims, I love you all. Not all minds are corrupt.
— Arsilan (@prxncer_c) April 15, 2013
i'm not muslim, but it just makes me horrified that Muslims get blamed for every terrorist attack. they aren't all bad people.
— sierrah (@biebsmeetme) April 15, 2013
You're an idiot if you can't tell the difference between a religion and terrorist organization. Stop hating on muslims.
— tobey (@tobeyjohnson) April 15, 2013
A call to arms
I am one of these voices. I am a journalist. I am a social media user. I yearn for news and detailed information as soon as possible just like anyone else. But I want this information to be correct. I want it in context. I want to read an article and have a solid, accurate understanding of the events and background. I want to watch a news program that gives me new information that’s been verified several times over—not information that was just pulled off police scanners and immediately reported on air. And I’m willing to sacrifice for this. You can take a moment, a minute or an hour! I can wait.
It's important to remember that it was not a race or whole religion that set off those bombs in Boston. #prayforboston
— Nicholas Sanford (@NicholaSanford) April 16, 2013
— Nicholas Sanford (@NicholaSanford) April 16, 2013
I’m not alone in this. As already proven, our numbers are growing. We will continue to demand that traditional media end the circus. Increasingly, you will see people denounce media that gets the facts wrong for the sake of getting it first. People’s attitude will continue to sway to our side and anger will mount. If the public relations nightmare isn’t enough for journalists, perhaps the libel lawsuits and punitive damages that follow will set our penny-pinching media moguls back on the right track.