The hordes of print, radio and television reporters who descended on the grieving suburban
In providing early details of the carnage, however, the state police spokesman reported that local citizens were being contacted by nameless social-media practitioners spreading misinformation. He also spoke of a hoax in which a caller posed as the shooter, although police had already reported that the assailant had killed himself in the school after his rampage.
Today's social media, in which anybody can "join the conversation" on the Internet, seems at times like the newest plaything, and indeed it often is. Also, hand-held computer toys and games flood the market, often replete with violent themes carried out with semi-automatic weapons of all sorts imaginable.
There was a time most news and information ran a carefully monitored gauntlet of fact-checking and fact-verifying editors in newspaper, radio and television newsrooms. Now the flow of verified information has increasingly been crowded out by freewheeling social-media kibitzers offering a mix of unfiltered rumor and fiction, subject only to their own questionable sense of responsibility.
In that earlier world of communication called journalism, such sins as plagiarism or lies masquerading as fact had to survive an editor's scrutiny, and if discovered they guaranteed firing in disgrace. Occasionally, hoaxes were successfully committed, but the writer's own conscience or the eagle eye of a green-eyeshade copyeditor provided the reader some promise of protection.
This is not to say that social media is solely at fault for the disintegration of editorial standards. The
These and other earlier reporting errors in similar episodes were often based on false information provided by sources before the truth was chased down. Cub reporters are taught early that information is only as reliable as its source, and that rumor is only rumor, not to be passed on until established as true. The old newsroom axiom -- if your mother tells you she loves you, check it out -- still needs to apply.
Much of social media certainly does heed the rule, but much of it also is akin to chatting across the back fence, with the added convenience of anonymity for the unseen gossipmonger. To the unguarded or gullible reader, it all too often is taken as "news" that can be banked on.
In the wake of the massacre, some
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