When news breaks, we all flock to social media to check for real-time accounts of bystanders and witnesses to hear stories, “in their own words.” We follow hashtags, search key terms, and try to dig for any and every bit of information that can help us understand what’s happening.
We search to find the status of loved ones.
If we are directly involved in these events, we access social media to let our family and friends know that we are okay when other means of communication are unavailable (think Hurricane Sandy and the most used phrase on Facebook was, “We are okay”).
Sadly, with everything amazing and useful, comes the abuse, and social media is no stranger to this problem. In these same breaking news situations, there are those who create “false” news and fabricate photoshopped images of ridiculousness, spread unsupported rumors, and shockingly, created fake Facebook and Twitter accounts of those involved.
This appalls me.
Something that quickly came to mind today as I saw the tweets from the Boston Police Department featuring photos of the suspect, was hope that this outlet was going to assist officials in their investigation. Simultaneously, I started noticing fake Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts of the “bomber-[currently]-at-large” popping up. These fake attempts are clouding the real information and intercepting important facts that need to be disseminated…and, it makes me sick.
Although I do not think regulation is always the answer, I do think there are two things that can improve this situation:
- Social networks should take responsibility and action. When names are associated with events, these names should be “flagged” and monitored. If someone tries to create a new account using these names, the accounts should be required to go through an approval process to ensure authenticity. This could help reduce false accounts from being created and gaining attention.
- Reliable news sources should be pushed to the top. When searching for information on Twitter or Facebook, reliable sources should be optimized and pushed to the top of search results so users see that information first and aren’t bombarded with falsities. If users want to be informed, let’s inform them as accurately as possible.
As individuals, we need to think before we tweet, post, or share and take our role as “community reporters” a little more seriously. We should become more empathetic to these situations and consider the effects we can have on the situation as a whole. We should do our research and not believe everything “just because it’s on Facebook,” or because a friend posted it. Take responsibility.
This may be lofty thinking, but I think it’s something we need to think about as we continue using the Internet and social networks as media sources.