MEDIA MUSINGS: The early bird catches the wrong worm

Published on Media Musings (24/5/13)

Twitter has become the maker and breaker of news. Its immediacy, its wide-spread audience, its pace and simplicity, all lend itself to being a one-stop shop for the latest happenings in the world. A problem occurs, however, when the need to tweet first else becomes a priority over checking facts.

The Oklahoma Tornado is the latest incident where Twitter, and therefore news outlets across the world, got it wrong. Amidst the chaos surrounding one of the biggest tornadoes to hit the US, the world jumped on twitter to follow it live. Regardless of which media outlet one followed, the numbers were the same. The death toll began to rise, and rise some more, until more than 90 people were “confirmed” dead.

  • Live coverage: Oklahoma death toll climbing – UP to 51 people are dead after a massive tornado smashed the suburbs…ht.ly/2×1Xe — Herald Sun (@theheraldsun) May 21, 2013
  • Oklahoma tornado kills more than 90 – RESCUE efforts continue into the early hours at schools and suburbs in Oklah…ht.ly/2×2a4P — Herald Sun (@theheraldsun) May 21, 2013

And then, all of a sudden………

The Herald Sun reports that “Amy Elliott of the Oklahoma chief medical examiner’s office told AFP that 24 bodies had been received and most have been identified. The higher figure had been reported in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s disaster.” This, according to Ms Elliot, was because “some victims where counted twice”. In the understandable terror of the situation, a quick count was done and broadcast to the world.

Fortunately, the incorrect death toll did little to adversely affect the situation. Other blunders have not been as lucky.

The reportage of the Boston Marathon bombing on Twitter became a real eye-opener to the mediums capacity for damage.

When CCTV images were released of the bombing suspects, the internet was overcome with everyday people making accusations. People they knew, or seen to look like the two men in the images were bombarded with abuse. Sunil Tripathi, a Brown Univeristy student who had been reported missing by his family, became the target of social media site Reddit users, who believed him to be the terrorist. Amazingly, without any other proof, worldwide news media outlets began accusing Tripathi too, tweeting out to their followers, and harassing the Tripathi family.

The Atlantic has a great breakdown of the ‘misinformation disaster” involving Tripathi and another suspect, both of whom were not connected to the event at all, but, thanks to social media, became Americas “most notorious alleged criminals” in a matter of minutes.

Immediacy will always be valued in the news industry, and the need to beat other outlets to the story will always be a reporters agenda. This, however, should never come before reporting accurately and fairly, ensuring that all facts are checked and back up before streaming out to the world

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