If you can’t prove it, keep your mouth shut and your keyboard quiet
While others my age belittle social media and its impact on current culture, I am one who is a bit agnostic on it for right now.
Social media has been a great advancement in sharing information with one another, keeping up with friends and family and creating wonderful SpongeBob Squarepants “Imma head out” memes.
Then there’s the flip side. It is a place that has deepened divides in our society and acted as a vehicle to spread rumors, inaccurate information and outright fake news.
But social media is just the latest vehicle — or carrier — to facilitate the spread of inaccurate information. When I was growing up, all you had to do was go to the lunchroom at school to hear the latest and greatest gossip.
There would be information about who was dating who, where the “party” was going to be Saturday night or some information about a teacher that was borderline salacious or illegal — both of which only heightened the teacher’s credibility.
And, what would start out as a fact on side of the lunchroom would only grow into something far bigger — far worse — by the time it reached the end of the table, much less if it reached the other end of the lunchroom.
And, once lunch was over — boom — it was out the public, almost impossible to reel back in.
Social media is today’s lunchroom. Sites and so-called outlets do not bind themselves to a moral code or a foundation of journalist ethics. Why should they? They have followers just waiting on the next pile of words, sentences and iffy facts.
Often I have thought, what if we could report all the things we “know?” Think of the audience we could build, the people who would follow our sites.
What would our Facebook reach be if we didn’t worry about sourcing our information to make sure what we first heard was correct? What if we simply put out there what we thought was the case?
While there are plenty of so-called news sites “reporting” things, there is a level of discernment today’s media still must portray. And, there is a level of discernment readers must have.
Just because it is on the Internet doesn’t make it true, and just because someone shared it on Facebook doesn’t mean you should as well.
The media world has changed, but the fundamentals of journalism have not.
Report what you can prove, what you can source. If you can’t do either of those things, then keep working the story until you can.
Otherwise, keep your mouth shut and your keyboard quiet.
Tim Reeves is editor of The Vicksburg Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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