Building Credibility in the Era of the Constant Refresh

Over the last two weeks I’ve found myself constantly refreshing my Twitter feed, Google news alerts and browser tabs for CNN, The Boston Globe and the New York Times looking for the latest details on the events surrounding the Boston Marathon.  I’ve been equally riveted and panicked about the information at my fingertips. . While I understand (and […]

Over the last two weeks I’ve found myself constantly refreshing my Twitter feed, Google news alerts and browser tabs for CNN, The Boston Globe and the New York Times looking for the latest details on the events surrounding the Boston Marathon.  I’ve been equally riveted and panicked about the information at my fingertips. . While I understand (and […]

Think before you tweet

Over the last two weeks I’ve found myself constantly refreshing my Twitter feed, Google news alerts and browser tabs for CNN, The Boston Globe and the New York Times looking for the latest details on the events surrounding the Boston Marathon.  I’ve been equally riveted and panicked about the information at my fingertips. .

While I understand (and am guilty of) having an insatiable appetite for information in real-time, it stirs up some interesting questions about the intersection of social and traditional media. What is the value of the masthead these days and where do people turn now in times of crisis?  Do you shift your attention to the news or look to family and friends’ tweets and status updates?

I initially heard about the bombings via a news alert forwarded by a co-worker.  The few brief lines that came across my cell while I ate my lunch only contained a few lines of information that didn’t answer all the questions I had.  My initial instinct was to go to CNN.com to get more detail; however, there wasn’t much more there.  I turned to Twitter and Facebook to check if any of my friends in Boston shared any news or if there was breaking information from the media sources I follow. My news feed was brimming with updates from people that were lucky to escape the scene unharmed, people questioning why this had happened and when we would get more information.

Later in the week once suspect pictures were widely shared and focus turned to the Watertown stakeout, information couldn’t come fast enough.  I spotted theories on the suspect names, live feeds of the police scanner and all sorts of breaking news tidbits from a wide variety of  sources. Information was spreading that wasn’t officially verified and there were widespread complaints about conflicting reports of what was going on.  While I hadn’t retweeted or shared misinformation, I certainly fed into this cycle of consumption.  This left me feeling a bit queasy; was my desire for immediate information outweighing the value of fact-checking?

Analyst Jeremiah Owyang  from Altimeter Group posted a tweet in the days following the event that really got me thinking about how social media is changing the ways we report and consume information:

As communications professionals, I think it’s important we hold ourselves accountable for the tools we use to share information.  While we can’t (and don’t want to) stop people from sharing their opinions on events in the world, we can help separate speculation from facts.  We need to think about the statement we’re making before we press the button to share and retweet.   We must consider the information at hand and validate the source.  We need to ask ourselves what constitutes reliable information and think about the consequences of sharing details that may not be true. If we don’t, we risk losing credibility with our audiences, making it challenging if not impossible to win back.  To take it a step further, we also risk damaging others reputations or in the case of the Boston incident, potentially someone’s safety.

When we do make mistakes it’s important to acknowledge them as quickly as possible – a lesson that the Associated Press is taking away the hard way and had to institute these lessons soon after when its Twitter feed was hacked sharing false “breaking news” that a bomb had gone off in the White House. Even though the hoax was unveiled almost instantaneously, the stock market dropped sharply for a few minutes before recovering. The AP reacted fast, suspending the account almost immediately but it lost nearly 1.9 million followers by the time it came back online a day later.

Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times, credited the outlet’s “model of restraint” when delivering an important combination of “fast, deep and accurate” reporting offering their readers “ cool headed certainty” that the news was right. This all contributes to the Times maintaining its reputation as “the place to come for accuracy, perspective and depth.”

In our industry, it’s easy to get caught up in this rapid cycle. It’s equally important to know when to pause and think before we tweet.

Do you have other examples of these false representations of information surrounding the Boston events or beyond?

 

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