Life happens fast. Truth happens slow. Trust, well that’s a rare thing. Combining life, truth and trust is apparently an impossibility, especially when it comes to news today that’s shared on social media.
When the staff and reporters of CU Times create content that we share on our site and in our print issues, those stories make it into our social media feeds. It’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to breaking news, we do two things: We speed up and slow down at the same time. What I mean here is by speeding up, we jump on the story. By slowing down, we stop and think and check the details before getting out the first version of the story. Sure, we’d like to be first with the news. But more importantly, we want to be right. After that happens, we follow up with more details and facts to add to the story to give to you, and then we post those updates on social media. That’s the process.
As many of you have noted and commented to us about CU Times being fake news or a leftist rag, our staff consisting of costal elite media types and more since the November elections last year, I’m going to say it: You’re being suckered into a false news reality. There are a lot of people and situations to blame for this. For my purposes here, I’m putting a lot of this on the heads of those who are running our social media platforms. And to those people, I say (to borrow words, as I have before, from Earth, Wind & Fire), “Somethin’ happened along the way, what used to be happy was sad.”
For years I’ve been a proponent of using social media as an effective marketing tool and whatnot. And I was also blown away in the social media early years of just how brilliant it was as a journalist and news consumer to be so plugged in to breaking news and insights from reporters working on the story. Back in the old days, of 2009, you could have a straight and unfiltered view of the news as it happened. Those days have been hijacked and so has my news consumption. Therefore, I’m calling it quits on social media for any national or international breaking news. Instead, I’m going to sit back and wait for the real information.
This decision is something I think others should consider and here’s why – the Las Vegas shooting and Tom Petty.
When news came through in the form of 10-plus alerts on my phone just after midnight my time (I’m not a costal elite – I’m in the Central Time Zone), it was a chaotic mess of information: “2 Dead in a Las Vegas Mall Shooting;” “Shots Fired at Las Vegas Casino;” “Country Music Festival-Goers Killed by Mass Shooter.” The news alerts showed this evolution of chaotic first impressions of a story until the alerts eventually had the story correct. But then, the real social media madness took place. Shortly after the tragedy, the fake stories began to spread on Facebook, Twitter and even Google. In fact, if you were paying attention to Facebook and Google during those hours after the shooting, you would have noticed two of the top trending stories were fake – you just didn’t realize it.
“Las Vegas Shooter Reportedly a Democrat Who Likes Rachel Maddow, MoveOn.Org and Associated With Anti-Trump Army.” This was the actual headline of the top story and it was completely false, yet it’s very likely you or someone in your family shared this story. Why? Because we no longer control the news we see in our social media feeds – these big stories are constantly being manipulated by foreign forces. This is not a political statement, this is the reality we now live in with bots, trolls and hackers consistently manipulating what we see and read. Later that morning after the Las Vegas shooting, Google finally caught on and released this statement:
“Unfortunately, early this morning we were briefly surfacing an inaccurate 4chan website in our Search results for a small number of queries. Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries, and we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future.”
As the chaos of news swirled around Las Vegas, we heard news that Tom Petty had died. The problem was, it wasn’t true. Yes, he was gravely ill, but not dead. This makes me sad in that this was CBS News that screwed up. They took the breaking TMZ story that Tom Petty had been taken off of life support and an enthusiastic news producer falsely claimed that the LAPD confirmed Petty’s death. The news spread across every social media platform that Tom Petty was dead. Shortly after, the LAPD put out a statement that they didn’t confirm the news and that this wasn’t even their jurisdiction. By that point CBS, USAToday, AP, NBC News, FOX News and several major news networks had broadcast that he was dead. CBS retracted and even deleted the social media post. So did AP. And in this social media news rush, nearly everyone screwed up. Except the New York Times. Fortunately for them, they remained focused and did what everyone else should have done – stayed calm. Their reporters couldn’t confirm the story through their sources and therefore they never ran it as others did. Sadly, the rock legend did pass away the next day. By then, social media audiences were left confused. News producers were fired. And the industry took another black eye – this time it was self-induced.
Combining these two stories in less than two days left me with the easy decision to write off social media for any form of breaking national news. I can’t trust it any longer.
For breaking news, I’m sticking with my local news outlets and industry-specific news hounds. It’s too easy for the news to be manipulated and when mistakes happen, Facebook and Google are culpable in the spreading of false stories and even when stories are corrected, the social media/tech giants don’t have a fix to ensure their audiences are properly informed.
After the love is gone.
What used to be right is wrong.
Can love that’s lost be found?
No, Maurice. No, it can’t.
Michael Ogden is executive editor for CU Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.