On Monday, April 15, 2013 the city of Boston was struck with fear and terror when two brothers decided to bomb the finish line of the Boston Marathon, causing a panic throughout the streets that had not been seen in an American city since the September 11th attacks in 2001.
As with any major news event, word of the bombing soon spread to Twitter, where millions of people began asking questions. What happened? Who was responsible? How many people were killed? People wanted answers, and soon, answers would be given. Except the answers were not answers at all.
Twitter has served as an excellent news outlet for this generation. But the drawback of relying heavily on Twitter for news and information comes down to the fact that anyone can tweet what they want and when they want to, regardless of their knowledge of a particular topic.
When news breaks, people want to be the first to know what has happened. With Twitter, they can be the first break the news as it happens. This seemed like a blessing at first, as “citizen journalism” grew more credible and legitimate.
But now it seems that citizen journalism has lost that same credibility and legitimacy because of Twitter. People want to break the news themselves so badly they will say anything they want to. As long as they are first.
Look back to two weeks ago on that fateful Monday in Boston. The minute that news broke of the bombing, the “Twitterverse” blew up with millions of reports and updates. Some were accurate, but many were not, just the product of a generation that believes that being first is more important than being right.
There were multiple bombs exploding throughout the race, according to the Twitterverse (there were only two bombs). Others tweeted that they had seen the bombers flee the scene with bags in hand (the bombers would be identified several days later). Many tweeted that there were dozens dead from the blast (there were three casualties in the blast).
This “reporting” was not just coming from the general public; well-respected news organizations were getting in on the action. The New York Post was the first to report that 12 people had been killed, most likely resulting in the citizen journalists tweeting the same information. CNN’s coverage of the entire week, from the bombing to the investigation of suspects was atrocious; at one point, the network reported that there were suspects in custody when police were still trying to identify those responsible.
The most dangerous part of Twitter? It takes one click of the “retweet” button for inaccurate news to travel fast. People see the tweet that sounds legitimate and instantly retweet because they want to get in on the action. There is nothing wrong with retweeting a tweet, as long as the tweet is the truth.
Unfortunately, this was not the case two weeks ago. Being from the Boston area, I wanted new information as it was coming in, and I refreshed my Twitter feed constantly throughout that Monday afternoon and evening.
I chose to study journalism because I have a passion for writing and spreading the news. When I was younger, I loved watching the news and learning about all that was happening in the world. As I grew older, I realized that being accurate and fair was just as important as being on top of a breaking news story.
Sadly, that opinion does not seem to be shared today. Between both professional and citizen journalists, breaking the news first means more than being right. And that is just wrong.