Retweet and share responsibly

21Dec11

Nothing beats a great scoop.

There isn’t a cup of coffee anywhere that can match the adrenaline rush you get when you know something before most everyone else. The anticipation, the urgency to beat the competition: It’s a high.

Until the last decade or so, that feeling was mostly reserved for journalists. We had control of all of the info and we protected it with every fiber of our being until it was time to unleash it.

Now, everyone with a social media account or a blog can broadcast breaking news not just to their friends but to the world. That’s an awesome power to have and one that should come with some responsibility to make sure it’s right.

I love the new information age but the rush to be first allows hoaxes to ripple across the internet faster than an earthquake.

I can’t stand hoaxes. The truth never spreads as quickly or as far as the original lie because people generally aren’t as quick to admit they were wrong. You can just feel the nation’s collective IQ drop a few points each time one of these unattributed memes appears on yours news feed.

So just take a few more seconds to make sure what you’re about to tell everybody is right.

Here’s some tips to spotting a hoax:

Most people I know go right to Snopes, which is a virtual warehouse of documented Internet hoaxes. But what if it’s not on Snopes?

Is there a link?

The lack of a link from someone other than a credible news sourceΒ  is a major red flag. This item, headlined “A TRUE STORY,” was shared more than 20,000 times on Facebook. 20,000 times! That’s a small city.

Off the bat you can see why it fueled so much emotion. I mean, there’s a dead girl hanging out of the windshield. People are crying.

The text that accompanies it purports to contain the real words the teen told a reporter moments before she died in a DUI-related crash. I haven’t seen it appear on Snopes yet so let’s scrutinize it a bit:

She told it to a reporter? There must be a link to the story, right? Nope. Nothing on Google, either.

If that’s not enough, let’s look at the photo a little closer.

The girl is lying on a towel, presumably to protect her from any shattered glass. And the lack of any front-end damage on the car is kind of curious.Β  If you’re still not convinced this is probably a photograph of a high school’s re-creation of a crash scene – and not a “TRUE STORY” – I’m pretty sure that’s the Grim Reaper’s hand there in the right hand corner.

Why the trickery? Obviously the message is important enough that we don’t have to try and cloak it as “TRUE.”

What if there is a link?

Give it a quick glance, see it for yourself.Β  Is it a website you’ve heard of before? It doesn’t have to be the old standbys like The New York Times or The Washington Post, but it helps if the title makes sense.

This week, the Daily New Blog International “reported” the story of Jon Bon Jovi’s untimely death. Plenty of blogs break news nowadays, but typically they still don’t have the default “Just another WordPress site” on them. This thing makes TMZ look like the Wall Street Journal. Yet, Twitter and Facebook ate it up. Journalists everywhere, particularly in his home state of New Jersey, scrambled to verify it.

Finally, a newspaper verified it was a hoax but even the rocker himself felt the need to prove he was still living on a prayer.

I

A lot of smart people have fallen victim to these hoaxes. A lot. There’s a lot of landmines out there. Fake accounts. Fake eyewitnesses. I’ve fallen for a hoax. I’m lucky mine was a small, private gaffe. Some journalists have had their mistakes splattered across blogs for months afterward (Hi) and still maintained that it’s no big deal.

It’s going to happen to the best of us, I understand that, but we need to check it out. I don’t agree with the journalists who don’t think we should be held to a higher standard. Sure, why not, it’s only Twitter? The reason is we’re as important now – even when seemingly everyone’s grandma has a way to spread news – than ever. People still rely on us to find out what’s true and what’s not.

This will become easier when everyone realizes that the only thing better than being first is being the first to be right.

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7 Responses to “Retweet and share responsibly”

  1. 1 Paul Lucas

    Twitter has taken the email hoax to a new level. The email hoaxes can and do circle the globe but they don’t have the instant impact of Twitter. I used to look up the emails on Truthorfiction.com or Snopes and then reply to all that it was a hoax and encourage everyone to look it up before forwarding. It was a waste of time because people don’t care if it’s true as long as they can tell the story first. I hope journalists and non-journalists alike will heed your words, Andy, but I have my doubts. Technology has left no time for responsible decision-making in the rush to be first.

    • I think people are particularly susceptible if they’re on their cell phones, which is all the time. They might think their friend already verified it and retweet them. But I’m surprised some people don’t care. I’m admittedly anal retentive about it. Drives me nuts.

  2. Ok, I am guilty as charged. Yes, I saw the story about the drunk driver and saw the picture of the girl on the hood. The first thing I thought about was the fact that people like to drink and drive and while this story was not genuine the message behind it is. That was my intent, to ask people to NOT drink and drive. My apologies for screwing up the message or intent because I was too stupid or lazy to take the time and check out the story. I typically do not fall for this sort of thing.

    • My intent wasn’t to call anyone out, James. I made the same mistake a couple of years ago with this link: http://www.malepregnancy.com/. It looked so professional I posted it without checking it out. It’s going happen, I just think it could/should happen a lot less.

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  1. 1 Clowney Twitter

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