Fact-checking sources in the age of social media
It could be argued that the most basic and important tenant of journalism is adherence to accuracy by “checking the facts” on a story. Knowing a reporter or an editor has done everything they could to make sure their story is as factual as possible helps readers and viewers to trust the news product they are presented with.
In the last decade, the rise of social media has presented new challenges for journalists trying to fact check their sources. The most popular social media sites, Twitter and Facebook, are virtually unregulated for content. (Un)fortunately, they are also responsible for spreading news – and rumors – quickly. Early in August, the sports world was sent into a frenzy when the media misconstrued a Tweet by NFL veteran Brett Favre that indicated he would be retiring from football. ESPN devoted a full-day of coverage to the story, which ended up being false.
Bloggers can also present challenges for journalists. Since anybody with the ability to build a website and post content can call themselves a blogger, it’s difficult to verify the validity of what is being said. If inaccurate information is spread from a blog to an online forum to a chat room, it becomes difficult to separate fact from fiction.
Facebook, Twitter and blogs have undoubtedly helped news organizations break crucial stories and better communicate with the public they serve. Ours is a fast-paced society and so many of us like to be accommodated quickly and efficiently. We like our news that way too. But the responsibility of the media to ensure a story’s accuracy becomes even more important when dealing with “face-less” sources.
It is the responsibility of media professionals to make sure the news presented is as accurate as possible. It helps maintain integrity – perhaps the second most basic and important tenant of journalism.