Sunday, December 1, 2013

Social Media: Helpful Aid for Journalists or Hindrance Towards Credibility?

Meredith McNelis

Social media has shaped and changed the way news is received in the past decade. It is not only a platform that fosters personal creativity and promotion but has become a tool for journalists as well. However, if not used properly, journalists can fall victim to false Facebook posts and tweets. Lines can be blurred when they decide to use content found online.

User-Generated Content

Most social media sites allow their users to post freely without prescreening content. It has created a platform for people to voice their opinions and feelings while practicing their freedom of speech. Because of this freedom people often post exaggerated or false information to just to get attention or a rise out of their friends and followers. False reports are generated every day, and one must have a critical eye of whether to trust a story.

Twitter gives users instant gratification. Eager tweeters get a hold of a breaking story before news stations can, thus, coining the term “citizen journalists.” Its timeline has become many people’s main source of news.  It is real-time news that can be obtained anytime, anywhere.

This has become a helpful tool for journalists and news stations to get breaking information. It can provide them with useful facts and quotes to use in both print stories and broadcast news segments. But because such content is not prescreened for validity or credibility, journalists have to be careful what they use. Separating fact from fiction is necessary and essential to producing a credible news story. They have to wade through the false stories and information to find the hidden gems of real news.

Websites have even been created to help people knowingly generate false social media content. For example, LemmeTweetThatForYou provides a template that looks just like a tweet but you can enter in whatever screen name and tweet what you want. Average Joe could go on and create a tweet stating he is Rihanna.  

Journalists must go through important steps before deciding to publish content generated on social media sites.

Contact the Source

Calling the person who generated the content on Facebook, Twitter or any other social media site is important to establish credibility. A simple phone call can clear up any confusion the journalist may have on the post and will help erase any confusion. Discovering one's true identity is key to finding out if the content was deceitfully made or not. Figuring out the “who, what, when, where and whys” of the story creates a solid foundation for a usable story.      

Fact Check

Just because something is online does not make it true. People post false information all of the time just to get a response. Comparing posts to credible sources and fact checking will help validate information.

Journalists must present the public with factual information. Collecting as much information possible to make comparisons between social media content and other facts is key to making sure the post is accurate. Publishing news that is not 100 percent true will create skepticism towards the media.  

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