Friday, July 18, 2014

A tragedy unfolds and the perils of social media

The Malaysian Airlines plane MH17 being shot down over the Ukraine is such a sad tragedy I don't have the words to quite express how awful it is. I can't even imagine how terrible the family and friends of those on board feel during this dark time, and keep thinking about those that lost their lives. 

Since finding out, I've been obsessively reading about it online, and watching a number of different news channels' rolling coverage. In between feeling shock and horror at what happened, it's also occurred to me how we ought to proceed with caution when relying on social media and news stations for breaking news. 

First, there are the grisly images. I've not seen any myself, but have heard that they're everywhere. I am absolutely shocked and appalled that these are so easy to find for a number of reasons. On a personal level, they are images that, once seen, can't be unseen, and ought to come with warnings. Secondly, these are images of people who have been dead for under 24 hours. Surely they deserve some dignity in their death? 

Second, there are the stories that are reported loudly as fact, but then quietly corrected as more details come to light. Most people don't ever see the quiet corrections, so the initial reports somehow become recognised as fact. Even over the past few hours I've noticed that a few stories have been quietly taken down or rewritten by the news websites, without any corrections formally noted. I don't know at what point in news reporting the rush to be first to break a story somehow became more important than being right, but I think it's a real shame that this has happened. At the end of the day, we are all worse for the misinformation being spread in this way. 

Third, the internet can quickly turn into a giant rumor-mill, where hearsay and educated guesses turn into facts. Sometimes, it's also as if people forget that this is news about real people, not some sort of Hollywood blockbuster. We don't deserve all of the information, at least not until the families of those who have lost their lives have it, especially when it comes to notifying loved ones of someone's passing.  We need to be more patient that this will happen in the fullness of time. 

Don't get me wrong. I love the internet. I also love that I can access screeds of information from various countries with a few clicks of the mouse. I also need to remind myself, though, that when a global tragedy unfolds, there are a few things that I need to bear in mind when reading about it online. 

1 comment:

  1. Well-said. I have found myself wondering the same things about print news reporting and the quest to be the first to break a story irrespective of whether the details have been confirmed. I've also noticed when some articles are quietly withdrawn or details are corrected within them, without apology. To me, this laissez-faire approach actually undermines the credibility of news agencies. I would much rather wait for a fully-confirmed factually-accurate report than read an article based on supposition.