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Do we need guidelines when using social media to report the news?

On the morning of July 20, I awoke to learn of the horrific events that occurred in Colorado the night before. Throughout the day I scoured my various social media outlets for any new information. In most cases I found the same recycled information. However, there were quite a few stories that caused alarm about how we gather and consume information. These three cases range from mild to severe. They also highlight the how in the search for the newest information; you can stumble down the path of incorrect news.

The first instance occurred after reading an article about a plea from a young man who has the same name as the alleged shooter. The young man posted a statement on Facebook asking people to stop messaging him and his family. People so hungry for any information at all stormed this man’s Facebook account looking for any insight into the situation at all. This isn’t a perfect example due to the fact it doesn’t involve professionals. It is just the general public wanting to know more. By the end of the day numerous people with the name Jim Holmes had encountered this problem and were forced to deal with it in their own way.

Another example was a poorly timed tweet. This tweet provides a perfect example of how scheduling tweets can run amuck. The Twitter account of the NRA (@NRA_Rifleman) appears to have scheduled a tweet for Friday morning. The tweet stated “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?” Obviously, this had been scheduled previously but it is still raises the question about being totally present and in control of your social media. Is it more important to release a message at a certain time or release the right message? In the hours after the tweet had been sent out, the tweet was deleted and eventually the entire account was removed.

The final situation began because of the media’s desire to be first, this situation occurred on ABC’s “Good Morning America”. The incident in question involved ABC’s News’s Brian Ross. Mr. Ross had learned that a Jim Holmes had joined the Tea Party the previous year. Mr. Ross did not specifically state that there were two Jim Holmes and did nothing to dispel the idea that the Tea Party was associated with the shooting. As a result of the reporting, the wrongly labeled Jim Holmes had received death threats. This is an excellent example of the dangers that can occur when the media jumps tries to be the first to release information without checking their sources. Mr. Ross and ABC have since issued an apology for the misinformation.

The first Facebook issue was relatively harmless. I’m sure it was frustrating for the various Jim Holmes, but in the end it was simply the general public being interested. The second case was in poor taste even if it wasn’t meant to be. Their tweet will cause no lasting damage and simply shows the danger of not being in complete control of your social media messages. The final situation is simply the irresponsibility of a professional journalist who used social media for research and never verifying the information.

What do you think? The social media resources available provide an unmatched resource to all their users. Should there be guidelines when using social media to research and report news?