Social media has bled into journalists reporting for better and for worse.
Journalists often rely on social media to stay abreast of news, to take the general public’s pulse on various topics and events, and to seek sources for stories all while conversing with people around the world. Yet, do journalists rely to heavily on social media when reporting? Or is it mandatory to use social media in journalism just to stay relevant covering a beat?
When used in journalism, social media can often lead to careless professionalism such as lazy searches for sources or amplification of false information resulting in misreported work. Yet with news being delivered in an instant through a single post on social media, journalists are now aware of events unfolding or how the public is reacting towards an issue all in real time unlike anytime before.
Searching a hashtag on Twitter will result in an abundant amount of information which has its pros and cons. Social media users will either become informed or misinformed, whether posts are valid coming from legit sources which can be difficult to point out.
During the Parkland school shooting in February of 2018, students live tweeted their horrific experiences which journalists pieced together to accurately relay the scene. Social media, in this case, informed the public of this event unfolding with updates coming every minute providing insights and context that might otherwise have been lost.
Yet, journalists cannot rely solely on social media without conducting reporting on their own to understand all angles of a story. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, there was a crowd-sourcing manhunt stemming from Reddit threads to identify the attackers, which resulted in several false accusations. Journalists must discern fact from fiction since the spread of misinformation in fake news can easily take place with a single posting to a pool of loyal followers, resulting in a chain reaction of lies.
Journalists are held up to the highest level of skill and professionalism, so when using social media in their writing it better not be flawed. The New York Times Op-Ed staff editor and writer, Bari Weiss, faced scrutiny for a column she wrote citing fake Twitter accounts to back up her political left critiques, resulting in skewed writing that failed to have supplemental information to back her claims.
Fake social media accounts from Russian propaganda bots disguised as legitimate were often used as sources in major media outlets with journalists having no idea they were indeed duped. It is crucial for journalists to remain skeptical, while always asking questions, and never trust one Tweet seen online to include in their reporting without fact checking first.
Social media enables journalists to digest information quickly and with ease, yet it must be utilized accurately. Journalists must never brush aside conducting real reporting by only depending on social media in the case of misinformation, but instead use it as a jumpstart to seek the most up to date, accurate, and reliable information.