Social Media can be a good news source in certain situations, however how do we know if we can trust it? We don’t. One of the issues with Twitter, for example, is that it has a never ending newsfeed with updates every single second, not necessarily spreading information that is factual. Although citizens are taking on the role as media producers as well as media consumers, the aspect of media producers and gatekeeping/gatewatching on our own can be more harmful than helpful. Once one piece of false information is distributed people believe what they hear or see, over looking for the facts, therefore we can literally fail at being journalists.
For example, in the article “How Incorrect Reports of Gifford’s Death Spread on Twitter”, Steve Safran exclaims how Twitter was the cause of one huge misunderstanding. On January 8, 2011 Congresswoman Giffords was shot in Tucson, Arizona by a 22 year old at her public appearance. The Twitter feed exploded after the event as the rumor started that Giffords was now DEAD after being shot in the head. For example a Tweet spreading this false information:
Because of tweets like this, other news outlets took the information and distributed as well. Thus, not too long after tweets were spreading from retweets, NPR and BBC News reported the same information.
Since these news outlets, especially NPR, are news outlets that are commonly referred to by the people, we can see how easy it is for false (and true) information to spread quickly and fluently. We will believe anything! Those who started the tweeting about this incident took part in gatewatching, and through gatekeeping chose that this story, even though not proven true, was a story to distribute through new media outlets such as this example on Twitter. Moreover, the more tradition media outlets were not the ones spreading this false information.
The truth of the story was that no, Giffords did not die at the scene and was actually responding to doctors after she was shot. Additionally, doctors had hope in her survival because she was responding so well:
“Doctors were optimistic about Giffords surviving as she was responding to commands from doctors. ‘With guarded optimism, I hope she will survive, but this is a very devastating wound,’ said Dr. Richard Carmona, the former surgeon general who lives in Tucson.” (The Huffington Post).
There are two challenges apparent in this situation: One, the fact that these new media outlets allow users to spread “news”, “information”, whether it is true or not, influences other news outlets and the people who they are followed by. Secondly, during this event after the false information was corrected by traditional news outlets, wronging those who tweeted that Giffords had died, tweets were deleted. The challenge here is that does it matter that these tweets were deleted? That is false influence spread information to Giffords’ family and husband even, that she was DEAD. Is it really GONE? No. Unfortunately what one says on the internet, new media, social media, etc., is never really gone. Within the time these tweets were present who knows how many people saw them. A click of button doesn’t delete the false panic that was resulting. Although some who distributed the false information apologized, it doesn’t take back from the overall effect at the time.