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Boston Marathon Tragedy Exposes Twitter’s Reporting Flaws

Around 2:50pm EST, as runners were crossing the finish line at the end of the Boston Marathon, a bomb apparently placed in a garbage can exploded. Roughly ten seconds later, a separate bomb hundreds of feet away also went off — both amid spectators. After that moment though, things begin to get hazy.

As Boston Police and media outlets work to piece together the tragic events that happened yesterday, a look back at Twitter uncovers a massive amount of disinformation propagated by both verified and unverified accounts from all over the world.

12 people were killed. The Boston Police Department has a Saudi national as a suspect. Cellphone service had been cut off. There were seven undetonated bombs found in neighboring buildings.

All of these above reports, which occurred within hours of the explosion, have all been proved unverified at best and false at worst. In the world of news, especially breaking news, conflicting reports are bound to emerge. But in today’s get-it-fast culture, news organizations run afoul of retweeting incorrect information and propagating rumors more than ever before. After all, doing so requires a simple click of a button.

Twitter is one of the best tools to use for reporting right now because it makes nearly every breaking news event accessible right from a computer. However, it has a serious disinformation problem — one that leads credible sources to give their readers incorrect news. Unfortunately, this will continue to be an issue as long as the desire to break the news conflicts with the necessity of vetting the news beforehand.

As journalists, what responsibility do we have to quickly and accurately report breaking news? This writer says that accuracy during breaking news is paramount to any organization, but the priority of it has fallen by the wayside; the nature of our industry is to inform the public, not disinform for the sake of establishing authority or preventing the so-called “scoop” from competitiors.

But Twitter has no obligation to establish that vetting process, so it will be up to the pioneers of digital journalism to undertake that task. In the meantime, it’s always worth it to introduce a heavy amount of skepticism when combing information surrounding breaking news on your social media accounts.

What do you think of social media’s role in yesterday’s tragedy? Did it help or hurt the situation? Let us know in the comments.

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