Social Media: The Story of Speed and (Sometimes) Inaccuracy

By Andrea Torres

Since its inception, social media has been praised for its speed – its ability to spread gossip, information, and news in just seconds. This ability revolutionized the way we receive information. Before, we would find out about big events hours after they occurred when it was later aired on the evening news.

Nowadays, you simply log on to Twitter or Facebook and the information will find you. You are able read what is happening across the world, or across the street, and follow it in real time.

A great example of this speed is social media during the 2014 World Cup. During the final game, Germany versus Argentina, the Twittersphere blew up. As the match came to a close, there were 618,725 Tweets per minute, setting a new record.

Another example of this speed is the constant updates about the #KingFire. The American Red Cross, the Department of Forest and Fire Protection, and California officials took to Twitter to inform the public. With up-to-the-minute updates, the world could follow the fire and the efforts to put it out.

However, there must be a catch to this innovative tool. With the need for immediate notice, how can we prevent spreading incorrect information? In many cases we have seen the consequences of putting information out on the internet without double checking it.

Take for example the time following Hurricane Sandy when we were lead to believe that the New York Stock Exchange was under 3 feet of water. Media outlets, such as CNN, fell into the trap and began reporting the same misguided information. Soon after new information emerged citing that it was not under water.

As a Boston resident, I speak from experience when I say that false information is spread like a virus via social media, causing mayhem and panic. During the Boston Marathon in 2013, false information about suspects being arrested and location of bombs reached millions of people. While many of the “rumors” were later dismissed, the harm had been done.

This demand for immediate information feeds into the vicious cycle of false reporting. While the world – specifically the people of Boston – ached for information, they were fed misleading facts. Without the power of social media, most “rumors” would remain within a small circle. Clearly, that has changed.

Social media is a powerful but imperfect tool. I bring this up so the next time you find yourself looking through your newsfeed or your timeline, please take the time to investigate what you read. While it may be easy to just retweet some bit of information you may unknowingly feed into the cycle.

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