I am an avid user of social media, and am actively engaged in the discussions about the changing nature and future of news and print media, but it is at times like last week's school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that social media and journalism can be seen at their best and worst. It has been a stark reminder that there is no substitute for careful, thoughtful, ethical reporting.
I turn to Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook for all manner of news, opinions, and conversation. When I woke up the morning after the U.S. elections the first place I turned for the result was Twitter. When I watch TV, I often like to do it with Twitter (particularly events like the Eurovision Song contest or the Olympics).
Friday's school shooting in Newtown changed that. That evening, for the first time in recent memory, I turned off Twitter, stayed off Facebook, and switched off CNN and BBC News, hugged my 6-year-old, and went to bed.
Like everyone I was horrified and felt deeply shaken. I was drawn to Twitter, Facebook, and the 24-hour news channels, hungry for information. I wanted to know what had happened, why it had happened, and what would happen next. Yet, as things unfolded on social media and the news channels, it became clear that there was little that we could know right away. What filled the void was rumor, ill-informed opinion masquerading as analysis, and misinformation. I found myself so cross-watching talk show celebrities spout opinions based on few, if any, facts, obviously fake letters being shared on Twitter by normally sensible and reliable sources, and news channels sharing mistaken names and misinformation in a quest to get the information out first without any of the old fashioned kind of reporting, fact checking and analysis that are the hallmarks of news versus rumor.
So I turned it all off, went to sleep (if you can call a night filled with nightmares that I imagine all parents of young children had) and woke up Saturday morning to read excellent analysis in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other papers and news services that took pains to check facts and print deep thinking based on responsible reporting.
I am a huge proponent of social media. I believe in the power of social media for spreading news, sharing ideas and having conversations. But for all of us who use social media, it is incumbent upon us to balance speed with common sense and sound judgment.
I am back online and reading people's thoughts, reactions, and ideas for the future with great interest. This weekend, though, has reinforced my belief that nothing is a substitute for careful, thoughtful, and ethical reporting.
Note: This column first appeared in my LinkedIn Influencer column.