Minden Press-Herald

Wednesday
Oct 01st

Social media is news source

From soldiers in Afghanistan to Americans at home and abroad, many have learned about the death of Osama bin Laden from social media such as Facebook, Twitter and smartphones.

Many people learned the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had been killed by updates through media formats or devices that weren't available a decade ago, proving that the information world has changed.

Historian and professor at Bossier Community College, John Agan feels that social media is one of the most transformational developments in the history of information dissemination.

"We have seen social media drive attempts at revolutions all across the Middle East and prove that it must be taken seriously," he said. "The amount of information and the speed with which information can be circulated is amazing and wonderful. The first word of the bin Laden story came from Twitter and texting, alerting the mass public and uniting us."

Agan said he found the timing of the news reports to be interesting.

"The interesting thing to me was the timing and how we saw the news organizations caught off-guard by a major news event not coming at the 'right time' in the news cycle," Agan said. "Reporters were scrambling to contact sources and – once again – we saw the rapid changes in the story as rumor and bad information were replaced by valid facts."

Agan went on to describe the need for technology and shared information between the media and sources of information.

"I think the most interesting thing to me was the revelation of how far the symbiotic relationship between 'sources' and the media has become," Agan continued. "I heard two different reporters comment that they received text messages from government sources simply saying, 'Go to work'."

The Associated Press (AP) said it was before 10 p.m. EST Sunday that many Washington-based reporters were told to get to work because the president would speak, but they were not told why.

Internet traffic surged above normal Sunday night usage.

Akamail Technologies Inc., which delivers about 20 percent of the world's Internet traffic, said global page views for its roughly 100 news portals peaked at more than 4.1 million page views around 11 p.m. EST.

CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC had nearly 15 million viewers between 11 p.m. and midnight Sunday when Obama spoke, led by CNN's 7.8 million. On a typical Sunday, at that time, the three networks are pulling in 1.7 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Co.

Agan said that the same speed in which social media can spread information can also be a negative point.

"Today, anyone with a cell phone becomes the 'media' and can transmit on the spot words and images that go directly into the information cycle," Agan said. "We have largely removed the elements of fact-checking, multiple sources and editors.

"We get the raw, unfiltered, unverified data," he continued. "That (unverified data) can lead to confusion and misinformation, as we have observed as the story of the bin Laden situation has evolved as time has given perspective and better information."

If social media outlets were quick on the story, many posts were quick to point followers to mainstream news organizations, or to pass on links — such as Griffin's advice to turn on CNN.

At CNN, which reported at 10 p.m. EST that Obama would speak, it was another 45 minutes until the speech was connected to bin Laden, even as Wolf Blitzer provided some cryptic teases: "I have my suspicion on what the President is going to announce. Probably something we've been looking forward to, at least from a U.S. perspective, for quite a while."

CNN's John King eventually reported the news.

Blitzer conceded Monday that he had a pretty good idea what the news would be when sources assured him the President's news was not about Libya.

"I didn't report it because you don't report something like that based on a suspicion, based on a hunch, based on your journalistic gut instinct," Blitzer said. "You've got to get confirmation. And you can't just confirm from one source. You need at least two really excellent sources."

AP reports social media spread doctored bin Laden corpse photos, which caused newsrooms and the public to question what they were viewing.

Agan suggests that consumers of information take extra precaution to ensure the information they receive and promote is accurate.

"With no editor or fact checker, we, if we want to be responsible citizens, are tasked with making sure we have our facts in order," he said. "That is perhaps the worst thing I've seen emerge from the 'New Media,' the immediate embracing of rumors, half-truths and outright lies. It is truly a challenge as we move forward to work toward maximizing the good aspects of the 'New Media,' while taking care to curb the bad aspects."

 

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