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Downed Malaysian flight exposes issues with social media reporting

The MH17 tragedy reminds us as social media users to be prudent in our reporting
The MH17 tragedy reminds us as social media users to be prudent in our reportingPhoto by Pool/Getty Images

Moments after Malayasian flight MH17 crashed in Ukraine, today, Thursday, July 17, thousands of concerned individuals took to Twitter and other various forms of social media to follow along as the news of the tragedy developed.

Some of whom, we can only imagine, were family members of the reported 295 dead, trying to learn what has happened to their friends and loved ones.

While essential personnel and reputed news sources tried to scramble to relay reliable and factual information, their messages often got lost amid a sea of rumors, hoaxes, opinions, and unreliable news sources desperate to be first, rather than correct.

All of this, scattered amongst unnecessary, reported, photos of the dead victims on the scene.

For all the good that social media provides in terms of communication, especially in providing crucial and timely information during disasters, we as a society must be aware of the pitfalls of "social media reporting".

Far too often, the "crowded highway" feeling of communicating on social media pressures professionals to get their information out first, often well before it's journalistically prudent to do so. As a result, reporting on social media is prone to mistakes, misquotes, and reporting that can be damaging to the reader.

Additionally, because of the relative anonymity of social media, and the freedom it allows to one to type anything at anytime, it's easy for someone to get caught up in the sensationalism of the news, both in creating it and in spreading it. Therefore, as a social media user and "news" reporter both, it's important to do your due diligence before spreading information to the masses.

Tragedies like the Malaysian flight are chaotic in their infancy. Professionals are scrambling to find answers as to what happened as quickly as possible, but because of their relative chaotic nature, it takes time to get the facts. But in this world of "we want to know now" that social media has created, there's a perceived pressure to deliver something, anything, to the reader.

Which is why it is incumbent upon you, the reader, to approach initial reports with skepticism, and take a step back before clicking the "RT" or share button; as adding to the chaos just helps create more chaos.

We owe it to the victims, their families, and those trying to help, to be responsible in our social media practices.