2015 Rewind – Best of the Blog: Social Media – Breaking News and Misinformation

Our third revisit comes from later in the year, in the wake of the terrible events in Paris in November. Social media played a huge role in the development of the story, and we looked at the power of these platforms for good and bad reasons.

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Social media was awash this weekend with information, news and an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy in the wake of the atrocities in Paris on Friday night.

The Procurious team would like to take this opportunity to offer our most sincere condolences and sympathies to people of Paris, and all those affected by this horrendous act of terrorism. We would also offer the same sympathies to the people of Beirut, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, who have all suffered similar attacks in recent days and weeks.

Social media has changed how the world sees events such as the ones in Paris. Breaking news, information and pictures all appear on the Internet during the events, with people uploading their first-hand accounts on the ground.

But, while social media can be a force for good, and a fantastic tool to help victims and their families, there is also a darker side, with misinformation, vitriol and rhetoric all spread in equal measure, often taking the focus away from the real story.

The Good

As the attacks in Paris unfolded on Friday night, many people turned to their phones to get an understanding of what was going on. With the news cycles taking time to unfold, social media was able to fill that gap with the headlines as they broke.

As well as providing access to the breaking news, social media accounts were being used to communicate with families and friends, to let others know that people were safe. Facebook immediately launched its “I’m Safe” button, which was first used during the Nepalese earthquake earlier this year, allowing a simple way to notify hundreds of people at once.

Not for the first time, a Twitter hashtag trended in the wake of the attacks. The #porteouverte hashtag offered a place to stay for those affected by the events, similar to the #illridewithyou hashtag, which trended in December last year following terror attacks in Sydney.

A sign of sympathy, a sign of solidarity, showcasing all the good that social media can accomplish in these situations.

The Bad

For all the good that social media can do, there is a dark side to the power that is wielded by its users. Giving everyone a voice allows for the support and sympathy, but also gives a voice to misinformation and ignorance.

For the most part, the misinformed stories that appear in the aftermath of such events are not malicious. A small story or throwaway quote can be exaggerated out of all proportion, taking on a ring of ‘truth’ as it spreads across social media.

Stories of the Eiffel Tower lights being turned off as a mark of respect (the lights are always turned off at a certain time of night) and of fires at the Calais refugee camp due to an act of retaliation (the cause is still unknown, but pictures were from a fire in November), are just some of the ‘facts’ that grew legs thanks to the virality of social media.

Where the misinformation is malicious, it can lead to hatred and prejudice being spread, and innocent people being targeted as a result. Already there have been arrests in the UK as a result of social media posts over the weekend.

Unifying Force

The power for good of social media outweighs the power for bad in most cases. The volume of news and information we all have access to means we can be better informed and more up to date on all the breaking stories. It would be a shame to see a tool that has the potential for being a conduit for social good be lost to the many, as a result of the actions of the few.

We have the responsibility to use this wealth of information appropriately, and keep our posts factual, especially when it comes to breaking news and events like Friday night (please still have your own opinions – this is part of the beauty of social media too!).

Let’s ensure that we use social media as a unifying force across the world, share quality information (and the occasional cat video…), shine a light in dark corners and allow us to create a global community. Are you in?