These days, we use social media to report all manner of things, from what our kids are up to at school, to new projects we’re undertaking, to what’s happening at our jobs. But this kind of information sharing is quite different from the kind that is used by the media to report things like crime and emergencies to the public.
The media world has received much in the way of doubt from the general public. And it’s no wonder; a lot of false information has been circulated. In fact, the media is so doubted that there are a multitude of conspiracy theories surrounding the reports it generates.
The advent of social media has changed the way events and emergencies are reported around the world. And while some are of the opinion that this is a good thing, others beg to differ.
The Ever-Present Hoax
Many of us have received emails from people we may know or don’t know which contain information about some sort of emergency. A child who has been abducted, a natural disaster, even a UFO sighting. If it looks believable enough, most of us will pass it on, believing we are helping either the message subject or the ones we know to gain a little more knowledge about the world around us.
But all this does is create fear. And when the contents of the message are false, the entire practice becomes unnecessary. And, it seems that social media is not immune to this type of hoax, which can spread much more quickly and with more intensity using this tool.
Take for example a shooting where the shooter’s name has been released. Any individual with that name may begin receiving threatening messages from confused readers, causing unnecessary stress and frustration at their end.
What can be really dangerous is when journalists pick up a story that has been circulating social media. Should this happen and the stations broadcasting the news get the story wrong, they can instantly risk the safety of their viewers.
These days, social media is recognized as a way to communicate on a national level. Those who use social media rely on it heavily to get the information and situation updates they are looking for. Social media is an instant way to let the masses know that something is happening. As well, it’s convenient; most every carries a phone with them these days, and most of these provide access to the owner’s social media accounts.
The sharing that occurs via social media can also bring people closer to a situation. For example, when someone posts a picture of storm damage to their home or neighborhood. This helps people better understand what that person is going through, making them less likely to trivialize the situation.
From a journalist’s perspective, social media allows journalists to gather more – and sometimes better – material. As well, using social media can give the perspective of many people as opposed to the few that might be interviewed ‘on the street’. Journalists can also use social media to interact with their audiences, and from anywhere they happen to be with their mobile device.
Of course, with social media being used to report the news, a different set of issues must be considered. First, what are the boundaries as far as privacy is concerned? Should there be limits placed on what a journalist can ask of a social media user, considering the large amount of personal information that is shared on social media sites like Facebook?
Hand in hand with privacy are the ethics of using social media to report. The majority of journalists must adhere to a specific ethical framework that prohibits things like the reporting of a death before first notifying a family. Unfortunately, the social media world doesn’t operate within the same framework.
Perhaps at the core of the benefits of using social media to report is that it leaves no stone unturned. Anyone can have a light shined on their activities using social media; even the journalists involved with reporting a story. And so it just may be that using social media to report news stories will help to keep all involved accountable, even the audience.