Social Media’s Role in Journalism

Social media definitely has its pros and cons. It is a great tool for journalists to become better known and promote their stories. Sometimes on sites like twitter, we can’t tell the legitimacy of a journalist, since not all of them have a blue check to the right of their name. However, sometimes ordinary people can break news before the professionals get the chance to. The screenshot below is a tweet in regards to the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.

Sohaib Athar was just sitting in his house late at night trying to finish up some work when he heard the helicopter outside. He initially tweeted, “Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)” Athar did not know what was going on, but was still live tweeting the events as they happened. When Athar discovered what really happened during his live tweets, he posted this:

In today’s society it’s not that difficult to do what a journalist does, but actually becoming a journalist can be challenging. Not many people understand the ethics of journalism which could often get them in trouble if they were professionals. I think that in order to eliminate fake news from sites like Twitter and Facebook, all professional journalists need to have verified accounts. Not only can this prevent the spread of false news, but it also may bring some more trust back to journalism.

Breaking a news story that originated around a social media post could have its ups and downs. Until we can have journalist verification, we won’t be able to tell the legitimacy of a story at first glance. For example, during the 2014 MLB trade deadline, MLB network was broadcasting tweets from reporters who were making calls to see what trades were being made. One of baseball’s most famous journalists, Ken Rosenthal, is arguably the most trusted baseball writer of this generation, and is often on MLB network discussing trade possibilities and player/team stats. Someone made a fake Ken Rosenthal account and sent out a tweet about a trade involving two b-g-league stars, David Price and Ben Zobrist. MLB Network made the mistake of not checking the legitimacy of the tweet.

Rosenthal then put the tweet to rest by confirming that he did not make that tweet.

For stories that unfold on social media first, the number one step should be to check the legitimacy of the source that's posting the information. Once you know that the source is legit, then you can break the news, however you need to be on top of the story at all times. Once the story is initially broken, more people are going to start posting and doing their own research. This can greatly benefit a newsroom because now instead of having one person just “break” the news, you now have others trying to find out information and getting it out as quick as possible. It’s basically free journalism for news stations, but they still need to be on the lookout for fake journalists.