Professional and citizen journalists turned to social media last week to report and gather information on the bombings in Boston. But in the rush to get the latest news out, rumors and misinformation ran rampant. KUOW’s Ross Reynolds spoke with Seattle Times technology columnist Mónica Guzmán about how to avoid making social media mistakes when breaking news happens.
On whether social media could have been better at reporting accurate information about the bombing:
Social media is not really anything; it is a collection of people’s voices. So I think when we talk about this we have to remember that there are real people behind social media and they are the ones that are communicating. So then the question becomes, "Should people have done a better job sharing the information they hear?" And the answer is, "Absolutely, yes." When it’s wrong information, whether it’s the mainstream media or the public, it’s bad. But when mistakes are made that’s not a reason to say, "We need to stop listening." I think we need to all hold ourselves accountable to sharing responsibly.
On deleting your tweets:
I stayed up the entire night Thursday night into Friday morning. I was following the scanner traffic. I was following the Twitter stream. It was addictive. And one thing that was very wrong, that public journalists got wrong, was the names of two suspects that came out during the night that turned out to be just completely erroneous. But it was a thrilling thing, and everybody got on it, started sharing it, and started to attack the family of one of these suspects. When it was revealed that those suspects were not in fact the suspects, I saw a lot of people on Twitter go back and just delete their tweets. Not apologize; not correct. Just go back and hide the evidence of any culpability. That’s a problem.
On whether bad information drives out the good:
When a mistake is really, really big, people want to blame the entire medium. I think that’s narrow-minded. I think that the medium also has incredible information that so-called professional journalists may not have access to or just weren’t able to get to in time. So you can’t paint it all with one brush. I think that whether it’s a professional journalist you’re reading from or a public journalist you should always be scrutinizing the information. You should always be asking: "What is their sourcing?" "Where does it come from?" "How do you know those things?" There’s no need necessarily for a shortcut.
Mónica Guzmán is a columnist for The Seattle Times and Northwest tech news site GeekWire, and she is a community strategist for startups and media. At the Seattle Post Intelligencer she ran the experimental and award-winning Big Blog. Highlights of her KUOW interview have been edited for clarity.