We live in a 24/7 news cycle world where information can be shared across the globe within seconds. With social media websites, everyone can be their own reporter.
High school students in Steubenville, Ohio did exactly that.
Two teenage boys made headlines this week when they were found guilty of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl last summer.
Their victim woke up the next morning to find most of her things missing and a foggy memory. She couldn’t remember what happened until she logged onto Twitter.
Not only did 17-year-old Trent Mays and 16-year-old Ma’lik Richmond commit the crime, but others stood by, took photos and videos, posted them on the Internet and did nothing to stop it. The victim found nude photos of herself and a video of the boys joking about the incident afterwards.
Perhaps the most upsetting part of this story is that it’s possible that nobody would have known about the incident if their peers hadn’t documented the actions and kindly shared them on Twitter.
The way news is found and spread has changed.
The percentage of Americans saying they find news or news headlines on a social networking site has doubled – from 9 percent to 19 percent – since 2010.
Some of 2012’s biggest news stories originally broke on a social media website. The first person to tweet about the Osama bin Laden raid was a neighbor who while complaining about the noise next door unknowingly tweeted about one of the most talked about news stories of the decade. Other stories that originally broke on social media include news of the Egyptain Uprising, the Hudson Plane Crash, announcement of the Royal Wedding, protesters killed in Bahrain, and Whitney Houston’s Death.
However, this does not make every social media website a credible news source. Last year, a reporter falsely tweeted that former Penn State University football coach Joe Paterno had died. News of his death quickly spread although he did not actually pass away until the next day. A similar event happened when a blogger tweeted that Steve Jobs had died a month before his actual death.
Evidence of the Ohio case turned out to be entirely true however, and now, two boys will spend the first few years of their adult lives in juvenile detention because their crime was found on Twitter.
News on social media is immediate and disseminated quickly. However, the chance of inaccurate facts may be too great to ever consider social media websites a credible news source.
Amateurs, leave the reporting for the reporters. Reporters, check facts before pressing send.