Social media affects news accuracy

The Eatonton Messenger's EDITORIAL 06-15-17

First, we extend our sympathies to the families of the slain Georgia Department of Corrections officers and to the many GDOC guards and law enforcement officers who lost two of their own Tuesday.

It has been awhile, thankfully, since Putnam County has experienced any bad news that hit the national scale; but the fatal shooting of Sergeants Christopher Monica and Curtis Billue, and escape of two inmates did just that.

The presence of so many law enforcement agencies and news media trucks in town caused telephones at The Messenger to ring non-stop. But most notable were the postings on social media and how the Internet actually affected the reporting of the news.

Because we have become a society of “instant news”, all news media scramble to be on top of the action and to be the first to report what has happened, almost always reporting it before authorities have had time to gather and disseminate the facts. 

It was several hours after the shooting before Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills even spoke to a news reporter. Meanwhile, reporters of all media made phone calls to any law enforcement official they personally knew to find out what that LEO knew, even if that officer was not on the scene of the incident. They checked with people who had scanners and may have overheard the radio dispatch. As reporters arrived on the scene, they talked to anyone standing along the sidelines, asking what they knew, and then reporting it. Many such interviews with bystanders were recorded/videoed and posted on the Internet. But none of them were Sheriff Sills or Georgia Dept. of Corrections Commissioner Gregory Dozier.  None of them were an investigator on the scene.  

Meanwhile, the rumors flowed on social media. Countless people actually saw the get away car abandoned or saw which way it was headed, or so they said. People at the convenient store near the incident said the escapees came to the store and stole the car there. Others there said they knew at least 10 inmates had escaped. Because law enforcement agencies rushed to Madison, it was reported the bank there was robbed. Because no one could imagine how the escape could happen, they presumed it had been planned and executed with inside help. And because one said it, another repeated it, and so on until it became “true.”

Although they make little sense, rumors are understandable. But news reporters who try to be first to break the news and meet the demands of the social media readers do not have time to check facts. Some call it inaccurate reporting, others call it fake news or sensationalism.

And it is so popular because so many in today’s society are not searching for the truth, but only confirmation of what they presume, so they can be the know-it-all and move on.

And the scramble to spread rumors wasted a lot of time, from what we could see. As Sills said in response to a reporter’s question at the press conference, he and other authorities needed to be focused on catching the fugitives, not dissecting what led up to the incident happening and reporting every move to the public. But the public has a right to know, it says, and we agree up to a point. There is a fine line between micromanaging our chief law enforcers and trusting them to do their jobs. It might help if we wait for the truth.


Rate this article: 
Average: 4.3 (4 votes)
Breaking News: