Social Media as a News Source

Several recent breaking news stories have convinced me that there is an important role for social media in keeping us informed. In March, when the papal conclave was in session, I had some news browsers open but was first informed about the white smoke and the selection of a new pope through several people I follow on twitter. And again on April 15, when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, my first alerts were from some twitter mentions that sent me looking for more news.

So social media definitely is a quick alert medium, as crowd situations contain hundreds of “reporters” who are present and sharing information. The benefit of twitter and instantly shared pictures is that there are more eye-witnesses for any event.

However, there is a downside to social media as a news source. There is no independent verification of facts, and no editor reviewing content, quality of information, privacy concerns or policies regarding images. So some of the tweets during the Boston Marathon situation started talking about an arrest of a suspect, when no such arrest had occurred.

The best use of social media in the news cycle is as an alert – that perhaps an event of note is occurring – which can prompt a further investigation. For those of us who are consumers of information, the twitter feed alerts us to look for more information. And for news media outlets, the buzz on twitter can cause journalists to dig deeper and invest resources in an investigation.

So social media is definitely a news source, but not the only news source. There is still a place for investigative journalism, factual reviews, editorial policies and also analysis of deeper issues and larger stories. One hundred and forty characters and a photo can alert and partially inform, but they are one piece of the overall role of journalism in society.

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  1. Well said. My Facebook feed is how I heard about both the Boston bombings and about the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that happened yesterday – and I immediately went to Twitter to get the latest updates.


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