Think Then Post: Responsibility in Citizen Journalism

Do you use twitter? Or Facebook? Or any social network? Do you have a phone with a camera? Congratulations, you are a citizen journalist. Whether you want to be or not. With these tools you are able to spread information, or misinformation, around the globe with the press of a button. Stop and think for a minute about that kind of power.

Graphic Credit: AndromedousPrint on Etsy

Graphic Credit: AndromedousPrint on Etsy

It’s been a rough week. We started with the bombings of the Boston Marathon, then the fertilizer plant explosion in Waco, TX, and then the shootings and manhunt around the suspects of the bombings. In the wake of these incidents, we flocked to the internet. We wanted information, and we wanted it immediately. Not only did we want the information, we wanted to share it once we had it. This is a dangerous combination.

On Monday afternoon, I saw some of my normally savvy friends RT fake news. “RT this for charity” posts were rampant. Photos of kids allegedly killed while running the marathon were posted all over Facebook with comments such as “Share this in her memory.” There were reports that cell phone service was shut down (it wasn’t). Even CNN and the AP were sharing what turned out to be fake stories of arrests. Here’s a Snopes page to keep you up-to-date on rumors and the stories behind them.

This needs to stop. Remember Spiderman: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And responsibility in citizen journalism is just what we need. We need to stop blindly retweeting and reposting. I used to be really bad about this. When the Indiana State Fair stage collapsed a few years ago I retweeted everything I could. After some reflection, I realized why. I wanted to feel like I was doing something to help.

The CNN situation aside, I think that’s why when there’s a tragedy even the savviest of us start posting information without any research. In that moment, we feel vulnerable and helpless. We want to do something, but feel there’s really nothing we can do. Sharing information makes us feel like we’re taking action.

Instead of sharing information that may be inaccurate, and possibly even harmful, lets take some actual action. Head to your local blood center and donate if you can. Send money to the Red Cross. Wait for an official charity to come out for the victims. If you’re close to the area affected, volunteer your time to help victims.
And please, for your own mental health, step away from the media. Find the little things that make you smile, and remind you the world isn’t evil. For Claire, it was seeing her daughter dress up as the Doctor. For me, it was throwing the ball for my dogs. Just let yourself take a break from it all.

3 Responses to “Think Then Post: Responsibility in Citizen Journalism”
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