Repeat after me: “I won’t spread what I’ve heard before confirming it.” Say it loudly, three times, please. Then implement.
As a young journalist, my professors and news directors drilled into me the responsibility of accuracy, accuracy, accuracy. They made all of us reporters confirm our information with three sources before we were allowed to broadcast it on TV.
There was hell to pay if we aired a lie. Lives were damaged. Lawyers were called. Heads rolled.
Here’s the rub: everyone is a broadcaster today. Yet our social media accounts don’t come with ethics training. We are not required to check sources or accuracy before we spread a fire hose of misinformation through Twitter, Facebook or any other format. Case in point this week, the alleged suicide of an alleged child molester in Hollywood. (Yes, the “alleged” references come from the journalist in me.) Turns out, the “suicide” was a hastily-posted rumor stated as fact and spread by a neighbor via Twitter.
Rumor is the most effective form of communication. Always has been, always will be. Rumors appeal to our human need to bond and be in the loop. To some people they’re also salacious and shocking. Twitter and other forms of social media are invaluable tools for information sharing, but things head south quickly if we don’t stop to confirm the accuracy of our broadcasts.
“I won’t spread what I’ve heard before confirming it,” should be a mantra for the digital age.