We’ve all played the telephone game at one point when we were kids. One kid says “My aunt Sally usually likes to bake cookies using lots of sugar,” and by the time it gets to the 12th kid it’s become “My aunt Sally makes cookies with sugar and chocolate chips.” It’s a very human behavior, and sometimes the meaning is still intact, but… have you noticed news reporting, especially on a social medium limited to only 140 characters, has become sloppy?
First of all, fake celebrity deaths is a separate problem. We see a famous person’s name trending on Twitter and, morbidly, half of us assume the person has died without even checking to see what people are saying. If you do actually click to see what “William Shatner” tweets are saying, half of them are saying “Why is William Shatner trending?” and most of the rest will say “William Shatner is 80 – happy birthday, Captain Kirk!” But there’ll be a few that say “RIP William Shatner” and that will spread.
The real issue with “telephone” news is that a rumor quickly becomes fact without any proof or change, except in the flow of information from one person to the next.
On Monday, ONE source had claimed Katie Couric was “thinking” about leaving CBS Evening News since her contract is up in June. By Monday night, everyone had reported on it and moved on and said “I can’t believe Katie Couric quit” and “Now that Katie Couric has confirmed she’s leaving CBS Evening News, who should replace her?”
False. No one had confirmed anything.
But that’s the telephone game. “Source says” and “confirmed” are two different things, people. It’s more exciting to say you’ve confirmed something than “report claims” or any other softer approach. Plus, we’re often so excited at “big” news that we like to be the first to tell our friends, so often we’ll retweet or add our own $.02 without confirming anything or even bothering to read past one headline.
Are we victims of our own human nature to spread false information on the Internet? Speaking especially as a hard-of-hearing person, I’ve noticed that we often hear what we want to hear and interpret it in our own way. Then when we relay the information, the facts change. Sometimes slightly, sometimes completely.
News media has always been more interested in being FIRST than being correct, and the Internet has perpetuated that incredibly in the SEO and SMO game. Plus, if you post a false story on your Twitter or your blog, all you have to do to correct it later is other post something new or just edit the original story. Tempting, I know, but please… check your facts before you spread news.