Last Wednesday as I was scrolling through Twitter, I learned that the loud bang I heard outside of my house was not the wind, as I thought, or a gun shot, as no police officers showed up, but the sound of an explosion of a fertilizer plant in West, Texas.
Over the following week, I gained a lot of information about that and other things going on around in the world from Twitter. While it’s been a great place to gather real information, it’s also a place that you can get lost in the web of misinformation. Even the most well-known of news rooms fell victim to announcing things before they were fully confirmed which caused a firestorm of Twitter snark.
It’s a good teaching place though, especially for those of us who feel like Twitter is a great place to find "real-time" information, but the events surrounding last week should also teach us some caution.
- Tread Carefully – While “citizen journalists” can be a useful place for information in an unfolding situation, you need to be somewhat cautious about what and whom you believe. Not too long ago, I heard that a school near my hometown was on lockdown and I took to Twitter to see if I could find any information “on the ground”. What I saw was a ton of misinformation that the issue was related to everything from an active shooter on campus to nothing. It turned out the school was locked down as a precaution in response to a robbery nearby.
- Wait Before You RT – Look, I understand that we all want to share breaking news and events, and most of us aren’t official journalists. So, what’s the rush? Even a journalist will take the time to check their sources and make sure that it’s true. Let your finger hover over the RT of the tweet from @teenagermakingthingsup until you see it’s been verified. It’s better to spread correct information than to have to go back and apologize for being "had".
- Check the Hashtag – I had no idea the @AP had been hacked until I logged into Twitter and saw the trending topic about bombs in the White House. For a moment, I was full of fear. It’s been a long week. Then I clicked on the topic to see more information and saw everything advising me it was a hoax. A few moments later, it was gone from the trending topics. Instead of selling off my investments, I took a moment to check the facts and confirm what was really going on.
While social media is gaining ground as a viable new source for information – I would remind you of something that your father told you many years ago. “Just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s real.” As Twitter and other social networks grow in popularity and usefulness for gathering news and information – it’s also a good time to remember that these things still exist online.
Just be cautious.