Staff Editorial: Social media versus media

Last week's coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing manhunt led to massive amounts of information from scanner traffic that spread like social media wildfire. This information, which proved to be highly speculative and often incorrect, was disseminated by social media editors of reputable news outlets.

Information in breaking news comes fast and furious — incorrect reports are nothing new. But the way that information is communicated at light speed with the Internet undermines the reputation of the news industry. This is why it is still important to rely on the harbingers of truth we have come to trust from print.

The nation has, unfortunately, become accustomed to hearing about tragic news and responding to it. More than ever, during these events, social media has become the place people turn to find out about what is happening on the ground and how they can help.

Pertaining to the manhunt, considerable clues, tips and speculation came to light on various sites that led to at least three people being misidentified as the bombers.

Not to say that professional news platforms are perfect — last Wednesday CNN falsely reported that an arrest had been made in connection with the bombing — but the infrequency of social media accuracy from unreliable sources is a cause for concern.

Social media blankets news under hashtags and keywords, not credibility. Although it can be invaluable in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or breaking news story, it can also provide a dangerously distorted picture of what is actually happening.

This was most recently illustrated on campus yesterday as students viewed Twitter as a credible source when pertaining to the bomb scare on the main campus quad.

A note threatening a specific time and location, left in the women's bathroom in the library, caused an evacuation of the main campus quad. However, many who were following the Twitter coverage of the originally-vague threat opted to leave their classes at different locations on the main campus and falsely reported that the entire campus was being evacuated and that all classes were cancelled.

Students stared at computers and smartphones instead of listening to officials and credited news sources.

Incidents like this will only become more prevalent. With breaking news, everyone goes to the web. But we still need mediums who value accuracy to keep information in check.