Breaking news, social media and you

Finally, we’ve come to it … When breaking news happens, reporters and police try to keep up with social media:

The first tweet hit my Twitter feed at 8:15 p.m. on Sept. 8: Why are 11-plus cops on Folly Road headed to West Ashley?

Seventeen seconds later: Just saw at least 30 cop cars on Highway 61 in West Ashley.

The tweets kept coming, all from different people describing waves and waves of officers. One person saw at least 10 police cars heading to West Ashley from Mount Pleasant.

They all wanted to know: What is happening?

Welcome to the new age of information gathering. The speed and breadth of social media has changed how the public gets their news and created both challenges and opportunities for reporters and public information officers who want to provide accurate information but don’t always agree with one another on what should be released and when.

A challenge, no doubt. Here are good rules to follow — in no particular order:

First: Wait. Just a minute. Don’t reflexively retweet things. That scene described above is confusing. A lot of breaking news environments are confusing and chaotic. You need careful clarity here.

Second: Be wary of numbers. See the chaos described above.

Third: Before your reporter gets there, and you are crowdsourcing, seek out multiple points of view. Do all parties on the scene agree with the number of cop cars?

Fourth: No Instagram filters.

Fifth: Verify. Verify. Verify.

Have you verified yet?

Here’s a great breaking news handbook for consumers.

If you’re planning to use the descriptions, photos or videos of people on the scene, consider the advice of the indispensible Verification Handbook, which offers terrific details on all of the things you should do about the following:

1. Identify, verify the original source and content
2. Triangulate and challenge the source
3. Obtain permission to use the content

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