Guest Post by: Bridget Franke, Future Public Relations Professional
Our society is programmed for instant results. We have transitioned into a practice of waiting for nothing. This behavior is evident in all aspects of today. For instance, you can get a meal or a cup of coffee in under a minute. The fast forward button lets us to skip through commercials so we don’t have to wait for our favorite show. The internet allows for unlimited information at our fingertips 24/7. This extreme sense of urgency is now implemented in all practices, especially in the news.
With immediate access to technology, the ability to receive news in real-time has taken over our consumption habits – even if it results in inaccuracies and unethical news reporting practices. Twitter, Facebook and mobile phone apps have become a primary source of news and have accomplished this by providing immediate updates of breaking news.
One of the most appalling mistakes that exploded on social media was the misidentification of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooter. This mistake, repeated by credible news sources, is not just a case of inaccuracies, but a case of extreme unethical consequences. Through analyzing the case it becomes clear just how much damage can be done to innocent citizens when media place speed over accuracy, a common practice in today’s increasingly fast world.
In a NPR article written after the Sandy Hook shooter identity mistake, BuzzFeed Editor-In-Chief Mike Smith commented on the need to keep up with instant social demands and how critical it is that major news sources be wary of how quickly news, often incorrect news, spreads online. Smith said, “In any major story there’s going to be a massive, fast conversation on social media, and on Twitter in particular, trying to figure out everything they can about anyone whose name has appeared. And the idea the professionals have nothing to do with that conversation strikes me as a bad idea.”
BuzzFeed was one of the many news sources that wrongly identified Ryan Lanza as the Sandy Hook gunman. This horrible mistake was due to that fact that the sources saw the need for speed, to have breaking news on the case first, but failed to follow the most important principle of news – accuracy. News conversations have switched from professionals to any person with a Twitter account. This makes us all a part of urgent conversations and all citizen journalists.
But at what cost?
The delete button is no longer sufficient. Conversations take off at a rapid pace online and sometimes when corrections are made, it’s too late. Ryan Lanza, the shooters brother, had already lost his mother and brother on that horrible day. Instead of sympathy, Ryan Lanza received a slew of unfiltered hateful comments and his picture became the face of a murderer to millions in a matter of hours.
So who’s to blame here?
All of us. It starts with the media, who must fact check and fact check again, to avoid reckless reporting. We, citizen journalists, must also stick to ethical standards and harness the power of online communications as a positive tool and not as a way to make personal insults against others.
Overall, this is a case of careless, unethical behavior. We must all remember that our night-time news story is someone’s real life.