TV News Stations Are Doing A Poor Job Vetting Social Media Sources

Walter Cronkite is turning in his grave

Photo Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso
Jul 02, 2016 at 12:00 PM ET

A new report from the journal Electronic News found many ways that TV news stations are wrapping social media into their content. It also found that nearly 40 percent of newsrooms are doing so less-than-responsibly, stating that they do not have procedures in place for verifying news sourced from social media before including it in a newscast.

Anthony C. Adornato, a professor of journalism at Ithaca College and author of the report, told Vocativ that he was surprised by this finding seeing as how ubiquitous social media sources have become.

“It’s the norm for journalists to turn to social media for ideas, but it became clear that the policies haven’t matched the actual practices,” he said. “It’s concerning because if we’re relying heavily on this as part of the everyday newsgathering routine, but we don’t have a policy in place, then there’s a disconnect there.”

Best practices on newsgathering through social media, as defined by the American Society of News Editors, very clearly states that all content coming from social networking sites should be verified before it’s published. But as the news cycle continues to move faster and faster, fueled by the speed at which user-generated content is being shared on social media, the pressure to break news has some broadcast outlets skipping this step.

“This technology, social media, has caused things to move more quickly, and the audience to want it more quickly,” Adornato said. “Any sort of technology has impacted journalism, but this is so fundamentally different because people have the power in their own hands to not only consume content but to produce it.”

While social media can serve as a useful platform for citizens to send news stations tips and provide citizen journalism from the scene before news crews appear, a lack of fact-checking and verifying these sources can lead to the mass publication of inaccuracies.

Take the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013, in which an innocent student was misidentified as a suspect after a Reddit post spread to the news, and false reports of the suspects in custody were aggregated by CNN and WCVB-Boston. (Sidenote: it’s not just broadcast news making this mistake. Earlier this week, a photo from the Brussels terrorist attack was circulated in reports of the Istanbul suicide bombing by digital news sites all over the world.)

It’s easy to understand how television has gotten caught up in the race against social media, which has already overtaken television as the most popular source for young people to get their news. But please, for the love of all that is holy, verify your news, people.