Social media should bear responsibility for truth

Social media should bear responsibility for truth (credit: Juan Fernandez/) Social media should bear responsibility for truth (credit: Juan Fernandez/)
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

Shortly before 9 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, Onward State — Pennsylvania State University’s online student publication — reported former football coach Joe Paterno’s lung cancer-induced death. The report flew through Facebook and Twitter, and soon CNN and other news sources began to report (and tweet) the news. Journalists such as Anderson Cooper, Howard Kurtz, and Huffington Post columnists began to tweet Paterno’s death. Many Americans scurried to offer their condolences; loved ones that knew him and fans that admired him united to wish him well.

However, Paterno died on Sunday morning. Although family members demanded that reports of his death be deleted the night prior, the use of social media ensured that the statements had been set in stone. Many news sources were quick to issue both their apologies for misinformation and condolences to family members, but the initial flow of online postings was enough to sustain the news.

Social media has everyone in a frenzy, and rightfully so. The rapidity of Twitter and other platforms has truly changed the way we communicate, shifting news to a more grassroots process, rather than a “Big Media” product. Tweets, paragraph-long blog posts, or minute-to-minute podcasts are slowly replacing traditional news articles as ultimate disseminators. When this craze blurs into a haze, however, is when the true problem arises.

When Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D–Ariz.) was shot earlier last year, NPR and other news sources were quick to report her death. Social media grasped onto the statements, and created a frenzy of “RIP Gabby Giffords” posts, solidifying her death within the news world. Giffords, however, had not died, and is fortunately still alive today.

Traditional news sources are always dominant because they are trusted. Editing processes are complex and constant, thus reassuring the reader that he or she has factual information. Blogs and social media platforms do not usually have an elaborate editing process. A lack of this process inhibits social media’s credibility as a news source.

Many criticize social media platforms for a lack of journalistic integrity. Bloggers and Twitter users usually respond with the idea of “crowdsourcing,” the mechanism in which social media users will quickly respond to misinformed tweets and posts, thus ensuring objectivity and factuality.

Although I understand this concept in theory, I feel that it fails in practice. The rapidity of social media often prevents any source checking.

Social media mistakes should not continue to happen. Although the quick nature of these media is admirable, accuracy must be maintained. Because of social media, false information can spread and create public opinions based on inaccuracy.

Efforts are constantly made to create a balance between new media and traditional journalism. Measures to build and maintain public trust in each field are crucial to media’s continued successes. Journalists and bloggers often deal with delicate news topics, and the first step to improving media is to ensure accurate information.

Media sources, whether grassroots or mainstream, must check their facts and ensure integrity before publishing. Readers must also understand that, in the context of more delicate issues, social media cannot be their sole source of news.

Twitter users and bloggers should double-check their sources, just as traditional journalists do, in order to create a more reliable system. Accuracy should never be sacrificed for immediacy in reporting.

Until this happens, the social media revolution will never truly occur and the balance will always be traditionally bent.