There’s been criticism of the role social media played in spreading misinformation about the events in Boston last week. Journalists have come under fire after breaking events like this one and Hurricane Sandy for tweeting/RTing rumors and unconfirmed reports. It’s wise to think of your Twitter account as an extension of your work page. Your comments on various social media platforms, but especially Twitter, are being looked at by readers (and competitors) as a source of reporting and opinions about stories. Some quick tips to avoid spreading bad info there based on your tweets:

  1. Bring the skepticism you bring to your reporting to Twitter. If something sounds too crazy to be true, don’t RT/broadcast it, or do so while voicing skepticism, or report it out to see if it’s true.
  2. Remember that there are trolls who enjoy spreading misinformation. Don’t take accounts at face value – check the history/age of an account to get a sense of its reliability. You can always tweet at the Twitter user (or send them a Direct Message if they follow you) to try to establish contact via email/phone.
  3. Don’t assume that other journalists tweeting something makes it accurate. There are some who are notorious for fire-hosing information regardless of its accuracy (like @BuzzfeedAndrew) and others who make bad decisions in the moment. Last week, journalists listening to real-time police scanner chatter were tweeting it out w/o noting/knowing those are cops on the ground working with limited and inaccurate information.
  4. Keep in mind that your tweets may be screenshotted/quoted in stories.
  5. If you broadcast something inaccurate, it’s good practice to tweet a follow-up/correction.

Felix Salmon, expressed it well, here:

“It’s undoubtedly true that in the age of social media, it’s become very easy for anybody to peer behind the news curtain and see the chaotic raw material from which it is produced. But that in no way weakens the onus on responsible and experienced news editors to filter that material and form it into a fast, deep and accurate report. Indeed, the value added by those editors has never been more obvious than it is in situations like this one.”