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Be careful what you type

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  |  Posted: Wednesday, Mar 05, 2014 06:00 am

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Social media, while valuable for instantly catching up with your friends and tweeting what you had for supper, showed once again that it can be abused by anyone who has access to the Internet.

Instagram, a popular social networking site, particularly among youth, was abuzz Saturday about a supposed murder. A 13-year-old St. Albertan allegedly killed another 13-year-old boy in a fight. Thanks to the much-lauded immediacy of social media, the rumour mill went into high gear; people who had connections to the kids were following the drama from Calgary.

As a detected panic set in on the social media channel, it was later determined that indeed no murder had occurred. Whether the hoax was intentional or accidental isnít known. What is known though is how quickly the rumour took off on social media.

While itís tempting, in the era of Internet immediacy, to post rumours as fact, itís dangerous to do so. Breaking news can be exaggerated or just plain wrong without proper investigation, and media outlets that rush to post unconfirmed reports are setting themselves up for failure. The Boston terrorist bombing last year is a perfect example. Online news providers, including bloggers who have little or no journalism training, were posting rumours as fact with little or no investigation. For instance, at least one website reported the bomber had been arrested when in fact both bombers were still armed and at large.

Dispelling erroneous reports or, like the incident Saturday, outright hoaxes, is an important part of journalism. First of all, the public needs to know that there was no basis to the social media-driven story. Secondly, the public needs to be aware of the validity (or lack thereof) of information being passed around on social media channels Ė user beware.

There are very few rules and even less courtesy extended on the Internet. Itís a faceless conversation, and sometimes by people sporting another identity. The results can be harsh. Unfortunately, the names of the boys involved were front and centre on Instagram, thereby opening up their families to possible embarrassment and humiliation.

The time and effort spent by police investigating this incident, and others like it, is no illusion. The time spent by RCMP on this hoax could have been spent on actual crimes, which harms the entire community.

With the increase in social media use, and misuse, traditional media like the St. Albert Gazette have to be more vigilant than ever. The social media dictum of shoot first, ask questions later is irresponsible and even dangerous. Legitimate news gathering and dissemination takes time and legwork. It might not happen with blistering speed, but at least every attempt has been made to be accurate.


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