The Social Media (Continued) Movement

Posted Friday April 19, 2013 at 8:13:10 pm in Musings

Aside from being a horrendous experience for the city of Boston, the runners and watchers of the Boston Marathon, the citizens of the New England area, and the United States as a whole....this entire crisis showed us as a country a lot of things.  

First and foremost, it showed the entire country (and the world), that when it all comes down to it Americans can buckle up and come together for a greater good: the safety and well being of its inhabitants. Notice I said inhabitants. It doesn't matter whether you're a citizen or not.

Mad respect to the Boston Police Department, the FBI, and the governmental body of Massachusetts. Not only were they able to apprehend the second suspect into custody alive...they were able to do so without killing any innocent people.

A lot of respect to the citizens of Watertown for not only helping the Boston Police Department, but also showing their gratitude as each vehicle drove through the crowd. It is a memory that is firmly entrenched into my memories. I'm sure it is for Sarah (my wife). And I'm sure it is for many Americans. 

But I think there is one important thing that I want to tackle. And that's social media's hand in all of this. Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, whatever. We were able to satisfy a want that nearly everyone on these networks had to get information in and out as quickly as possible.

But this comes with a price. A price that some of us may not notice right away. But if you want to know what that price is when it isn't social media related...look no further than the New York Post:

New York Post Screwup

From the Huffington Post:

The New York Post once again found itself in trouble after it published front-page photos of two men on Thursday who it said were being searched for in connection with the Boston bombings. The problem? They were completely innocent.

Yes, they were completely innocent. Instead these men have tainted names (at least temporarily) in the minds of many in the world. I don't pretend to know the vitriol spit their way, but it's reminiscent of another media screw-up during the Newtown shootings. Remember Ryan Lanza? The brother of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza that murdered dozens of people as well as his own mother.

What happened when Ryan Lanza was incorrectly identified as the shooter? His name and photo was shared thousands of (probably hundreds of thousands) times throughout the internet. His Facebook page put on total blast. His name slaughtered. And during this same time he had to cope with finding out that his brother was the one who murdered all of those people. Including his mother.

Who was to blame for that mishap? Fox News. CNN. BuzzFeed. Gawker. And others. 

I italicize BuzzFeed for a reason. We know that Fox News, CNN, New York Post, and others can get things wrong. But BuzzFeed is certainly one of those news sources that can be defined as not only a news organization....but a social news organization. By their own About section:

BuzzFeed is the leading social news organization, intensely focused on delivering high-quality original reporting, insight, and viral content across a rapidly expanding array of subject areas. Our technology powers the social distribution of content, detects what is trending on the web, and connects people in realtime with the hottest content of the moment. Our site is rapidly growing and reaches more than 25 million monthly unique visitors. Jonah Peretti, founder & CEO of BuzzFeed, previously co-founded the Huffington Post. Ben Smith is its Editor-in-chief.

It's all about rapid propagation of information to the masses. The keywords being rapid and masses.

This is both social media's curse and blessing, after all. It's definitely a double edged sword. On the one hand, our intense desire to get information as fast as possible is satisfied. On the other hand, at what cost? The beauty behind social media is that anyone can become a reporter. The ugly? That information is rarely verified. And even more so, you don't always know that a person that you follow has the right information.

Look around on Twitter, and you'll find a slew of people saying that they got information about the Boston Marathon bombings, the MIT shootings, and the Watertown manhunt well before the mainstream media reported it. And they'd be correct. But look a little deeper, and you'll find that there is an inherent danger that can come of it.

I was following Twitter throughout the entire process and read countless tweets that were labeling the suspects as brown skinned, black, and everything in between. There were some that labeled there being 4 of them. There were some outing the supposed Twitter accounts. There were a lot saying that they were dead.

The problem with nearly all of the above is that it was all wrong.

Getting information rapid and from the masses comes at a cost. And it's a cost that can have problems. There was a period there where anyone of Middle Eastern descent (or appearance) suddenly felt that they were going to be profiled, insulted, and possibly hurt. Think back to 9/11 and the days after. I'm sure it was a very uncomfortable time for Muslims.

So, there's something to be said here that first needs to be absorbed by all: be prudent and practice patience. During that process (and for the rest of your life) practice tolerance. 

When you do those 3 things, suddenly any media outlet can be read with scrutiny regardless of whether it's your traditional media outlet or something more social. After all, both have their place in this world. 

While we're quick to point out the inaccuracies (and some of the unacceptable blunders) of such media outlets as CNN, Fox, etc. we should also be quick to understand that what is said on Twitter isn't exactly accurate either. As a matter of fact, it can often times be more inaccurate.

Remember above. If you followed nothing but Twitter (and signed off at a particular time), you could have woken up thinking that the suspect was dead. Or the suspect was brown skinned. Or that the Boston Police were detaining him.

All of these would be false, and you'd be no better off than someone who read the New York Post and thought Salah Barhoun was one of the Boston Marathon bombers.

What it all comes down to is this: social media doesn't replace traditional media. It merely complements it. At the same time, traditional media isn't the only form of media any longer. People aren't just watching CNN. The perfect example I can give you is this: my wife Sarah was watching MSNBC while I was reading Twitter. You'd think the information would be identical, but often times they were completely different. And often times social media failed us.

But it got it there quicker. 

So, practice prudence. Know that you can use both without completely discounting the other. It will go a long way.

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer’s view