Gini Dietrich

Use of Social Media Comes with Huge Responsibility

By: Gini Dietrich | December 18, 2012 | 

When I began speaking four years ago, business owners told me the whole Internet thing and, particularly social media, was a fad.

Soon they began to comment they understood it might be here to stay, but it was just something for their spouses to use to keep up with kids and grandkids.

Just this year, they began to ask me how they can implement social into their larger marketing mix and how to measure its results.

When we talk about these things, I use examples to show how social has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. I ask how they heard about Bin Laden’s death or whatever the latest news is that day or week.

It’s really cool news can be reported instantaneously, sometimes right on the ground as it’s going on.

Think about how we learned about the plane that went down in the Hudson River. Janis Krums was on the ferry that went to pick up some of the passengers and tweeted a photo of it.

But there is a dark side to “citizen journalism.” Ethics in media is corroding quickly as journalists jump to be first to the story without first checking facts (was it Michael Arrington who said he’d rather be first than right?) and they’re telling stories that aren’t correct.

Enter Matt Bors

Matt Bors is a Facebook friend of Ryan Lanza, who is the brother of Newtown, Conn., gunman Adam Lanza.

The story began when CNN named Ryan Lanza as the suspect in the shootings, based on a police source. Because of the credibility and reputation of CNN, other journalists were not only reporting the name, but passing along a link to Ryan’s Facebook account.

As Matt tells it, “People I knew were suddenly telling me, Dude, you are Facebook friends with the suspect.”

Because Ryan’s Facebook security settings were set to private, the media couldn’t see him posting on his wall, “IT WASN’T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN’T ME.” Meanwhile Buzzfeed and Gawker raced to name him the shooter and said he was dead at the scene.

According to an article Matt wrote for Salon, he posted a screen grab of what Ryan was posting on Facebook and then (in his words) that’s when things got crazy.

We’re Not Thinking Straight

Of course, the screen grabs were passed around Facebook and Twitter so quickly, no one knew if they were real. They hit my stream and I looked at them without realizing what they were or fully understanding who Ryan Lanza was at that point.

I remember thinking, “Who is this person?” and clicking through it without giving it another thought.

Then it got worse…for Matt.

The screen grabs spread fast and I found myself inundated with messages, some from journalists seeking confirmation, many from people saying angry and bizarre things to me or about Ryan. One demanded to know how I could be friends with such a monster. Could I help a random Internet sleuth create a “psychological profile?” Did I see warning signs in Ryan? Why did I suspiciously post cartoons about mass shootings only days before? That was very tasteless. A text to my phone from an unknown number read, “Looks like this killer is a fan of yours.” A Twitter user declared me a “snitch” for sharing Ryan’s post. Someone accused me of having something to do with the killings, “which you take delight in,” they wrote, and hoped the FBI would hold me accountable.

What the heck is wrong with people?

Responsibility For Use of Social Media

We’re operating in a world where messages come at us so fast we don’t have time to think. It’s so easy to share something we agree with or think is funny. Surely, we think, it wouldn’t be on the Internet if it weren’t true.

Jennifer Dunn wrote a great guest post for Danny Brown talking about our responsibility to fact check the things we see on social media before reposting them.

And she’s right. We must stop and think.

Ryan Lanza lost his mom and has to live with the fact that his brother killed 20 children and six adults. Imagine how awful it must be to be accused by national media for something you didn’t do on top of all of that.

And then consider being Matt Bors…getting death threats because he tried to set the story straight.

This world is crazy. It’s fast. It’s overwhelming. It’s the responsibility of every one of us to stop, slow down, and check the facts before we share them.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • belllindsay

    If there’s ONE thing I despise with the rise of social media and it’s immediacy during unspeakable tragedy, it’s the lack fact checking, especially by so called legit news sources. That said, as anyone who’s been privy to my social commenting these last few days already knows, I’m really fed up to the teeth with media bashing. Am I biased, having worked in media for 20 years? Perhaps. But maybe I’m experienced as well. Viewers are used to the rapid pace of today’s information age: They want the story and the answers as soon as possible. If they weren’t getting information at mach ten speed, they would be blaming the media for that. When erroneous information get’s published? They blame the media for that as well. Try and imagine being a wet behind the ears cub reporter tasked with getting deets on a massive story, or imagine being an executive producer knowing heads will roll if another network scoops his own. These are people just trying to do a job. In the most unimaginable of circumstances. I can’t fathom what that poor kid (the brother) went through on that day, but how many people shared and reposted his name and image across the social webs? Many of the same people now beating their chests over the mistakes that were made. We all hold some responsibility.

    • @belllindsay By no means am I blaming the media. If anything, I’m blaming the fact that, on the social networks, we share and we share and we share and NO ONE checks the facts. What I’m saying is we ALL hold a responsibility to checking facts before we share them…it’s not just up to the media.

      • belllindsay

        @ginidietrich Yes, I agree – I think I just spring boarded emotionally from your post this morning to the bajillion others that I commented on and/or got so frustrated with since Friday. The frustrating thing is that this rapid spread of misinformation has happened before and it will happen again. 
        Also, this sort of stuff ticks me off: “The story began when CNN named Ryan Lanza as the suspect in the shootings, based on a police source. Because of the credibility and reputation of CNN, other journalists were not only reporting the name, but passing along a link to Ryan’s Facebook account.”
        No “other journalist” should ever – EVER – re-run anything without checking facts/sources; dare I say *especially* if it comes from CNN. But, as I said, live news is insane and chaotic.

        • @belllindsay It was scary to watch. I think of CNN as a trusted resource and would use them to check facts before now. Now I know better.

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich CNN has really taken a fall lately, though there are certain credible reporters still there. Now, if the BBC issues something? I read and share. 🙂

        • @belllindsay That brings up an entirely different point. Spending as much time as i have this year traveling outside of the U.S., it’s been really interesting to see how much bias journalists put on things here.

        • belllindsay

          @ginidietrich They ALL do. They do here in Canada as well. Media conglomerates who own newspapers AND TV stations, and sit politically left or right, etc.. The key is to know who’s who, who swings which way, and to keep that perspective when reading articles, seeing which stories make the nightly news, and so on. I mentored a young girl who was interested in Media/Communications, from highschool until she graduated college. When she was in Gr. 12 I made her read the three Toronto papers each week (all very differently politically slanted), then pick the top story of each week and break down where she found the bias in each paper’s reporting. It was a great exercise and she learned a lot about the so-called unbiased media. 😉

  • BuildingContent

    Agreed. What good is social media – or my contribution to it – if it isn’t grounded in fact. “Truth” may be too lofty of day-to-day content, but “fact” is fairly easy.

    • @BuildingContent It’s like the meme floating around of Abraham Lincoln saying, “Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” We have a responsibility to check and make sure what each of us is sharing is factual.

  • Very bizarre indeed and Ryan Lanza’s name will be the one most recognized. It’s already horrific enough that he is even attached to this most heinous, atrocious act; but I’m sure the ‘social’ world will not make it any easier for him to get beyond this, if he ever can. 
    In a sane, civilized world there should be ‘social’ responsibility; unfortunately, that seems to go by the wayside way too often. 
    Sometimes I just want to stick my head in the sand….

    • @bdorman264 Somebody last night said they wouldn’t blame him if he changed his name. What a horrific thing to endure.

      • @ginidietrich  @bdorman264 He should keep his name as a badge of honor, and he should become an outspoken critic of the news media.

  • I wholeheartedly agree that we each have the responsibility to do a little fact-checking before we share. Dunn’s post describes something I often feel — the uneasiness at how quickly the pitchforks and torches can be roused, even when they’re being misled. It feels very dangerous. And the info doesn’t go away with just one stroke of the delete key.  My heart definitely goes out to Ryan Larza.
    A more lighthearted peeve is when people share celebrity gossip — from three years ago. : )

    • @dalicie Or when they say a celebrity has died…and the person shows up on the red carpet that evening.

  • Susan Avello

    Great post!

  • John_Trader1

    I know this post is about fact checking before jumping to conclusions, but in the grand scheme of this case, and all other shooting tragedies that preceded it, I honestly wish that we never ever know the names of these killers, these horrible, evil people who inflict tragedy and unimaginable sorrow to these communities. I guarantee you if you ask the average person to recall a name from this tragedy, chances are they will name the killer, not the victims. Is this what we want to remember? Why not let this evil die in anonymity? I just don’t understand.

    • @John_Trader1 I agree with you, John. And that’s why I was very careful not to mention the killer’s name. I really thought long and hard about whether or not to write this, but I think we have a huge responsibility on our shoulders. If we don’t want the killer’s name mentioned, let’s not share it on our social networks when others do.

      • @ginidietrich  @John_Trader1 That’s why I thought the President’s speech was so powerful, naming each victim.

        • John_Trader1

          @AmyMccTobin  @ginidietrich Me too Amy, me too. A class move whether or not you support his administration.

      • John_Trader1

        @ginidietrich Thank you for the feedback Gini.

  • I thought about that as soon as CNN switched to the other brother – I thought, WHY on earth would they not be 1000% sure before they put his name out there.
    I think about this with brands all of the time, and how we marketers are always so quickly to jump on companies when we see the slightest PR gaff – something @dannybrown counsels against often. Last week when that horrid Xmas card about a 9 year old growing boobs and getting a rich boyfriend went swirling, @shellykramer jumped in know that Hallmark, who owned the subsidiary, would never have sanctioned that card.  Turns out it was 15 years old.We all need to take a deep breath and research before we anger.

    • @AmyMccTobin  I thought the post Jennifer Dunn wrote for Danny was very good in talking about this. There are plenty of places online you can check facts before sharing news.

  • Thank you @ginidietrich. Thank you.  (@belllindsay tagging isn’t working for me for anyone but you)

    • @ryancox  You’re welcome, Coxy Money.

    • belllindsay

      @ryancox Cause I’m special. 😉

      • @belllindsay Oh you’re special alright. @ryancox

  • I just posted a rant, er, a lengthy message on Facebook yesterday over one too many stealth attacks on the current administration, which accused the White House of the egregious sin of calling their decorations “Holiday Trees” (they didn’t) and claiming Ben Stein wrote a column about it (he didn’t). 
    The thing is, it’s too easy to click before you think. Everyone has not-so-nice impulses and automatic reactions to emotionally charged situations, and the ease accessing the Internet removes the brakes we normally put on our mouths. The “scoop” has long been a hallowed tenet of the news business, but now, instead of competing against other news media, reporters are now competing against the general public. As an example, It took authorities over 24 hours to publicly verify the identity of the shooter, by which time Ryan Lanza had been misidentified as the shooter, then corrected, by the media. And non-journalists are no more able to resist the thrill of the scoop than journalists are.
    The real issue, in my opinion, is the readiness of people to take to the Internet to spew hatred and death threats. The first response to ANYTHING should not be to call names and threaten to kill someone.

    • @DebraCaplick Totally agree. It’s really easy to say, “See! I was right! So and so thinks so, too!” and then click share. It’s an awful thing about the Internet and I think we all need to shoulder the responsibility.

  • RobinMonks

    @MarshaCollier @ginidietrich @ryanleecox Well, first you’d need to establish when #Facebook ever had a soul?

  • I cringed at so much that I saw going around Facebook and Twitter last Friday. There were clearly so many rumours and unconfirmed “facts” that I’m not sure we don’t all have a different version of what happened. I love social media, but I was really disturbed at the citizen journalism aspect last week.

    • @Karen_C_Wilson I kept trying to get accurate information and everything was contradicting the other. It’s a crazy world we live in, isn’t it?

  • The fact that you said “fact check” Gini now officially blurs the lines between journalist and content creator. I am not saying blogger specifically because it has extended to all of us who read and make assumptions before we respond. The job of the journalist was to have that level of integrity and ensure all T’s were crossed and I’s dotted. WE all now have that bourne on us the minute we decide to comment. It’s as much about integrity as it is reputation.

    • @hessiej When I spoke at Social Mix this year, I hurriedly wrote a blog post about the Chick Fil A mess and hit publish. Then I left my hotel room and went downstairs to see all of you. While I was speaking and attending the conference, people were taking me to task for not full checking my facts (I stated a Chick Fil A employee had created fake accounts and was defending them on FB – the company later said it was not them). While the information was correct when I hit publish, I wasn’t around to update the blog post as more information came out. So now I know not only to fact check, but to also wait a couple of days to see if the story is fully told.

  • “This world is crazy. ”   Yep.  That, and full of human imperfection. 
    We’ve made a big tradeoff from a top-down and closed system for news reporting, to an incredibly open source system. It’s far from perfect, but I much prefer it to the news reporting we grew up with — when a handful of fat, happy good old boys would sit around and decide what news the rest of us were fit to see. 
    I’m 99% skeptical of any “fact” I read, whether it’s online, from traditional or new media news sources or in a book. “Facts” are often just assertions that are convenient to an author’s agenda.

    • @barrettrossie You would think though, facts such as a killer’s name who has reportedly committed suicide would be one thing that could easily be checked before reported. That’s without bias or opinion. It is, indeed, a fact.

    • Good point, that!

  • davidburn

    We have time to think. But it takes discipline to do so. Same as it always was.

  • Preach!
    I’ve noticed a severe increase in the amount of inaccurate information being shared by friends and family on Facebook, especially in light of the recent tragedy. (The Morgan Freeman example comes to mind, but there are others.) In our rush to show compassion, we’re skipping over the whole idea of accuracy and truth.
    We get angry at the media for spreading inaccurate information, but aren’t we just as much to blame for doing the same thing?
    Sadly, the majority of social media users don’t take it seriously, so accuracy is not paramount to them. (And they don’t take too kindly to friendly attempts to ensure they are aware they are spreading misinformation.)

    • @bradmarley You mean like the “if you post this on FB, you own the copyright to your information” baloney? That one made me laugh out loud. Not only are we not checking facts, we’ve lost the ability to think critically.

      • @ginidietrich  We’ve lost the ability to think critically because all it requires of us to share information is one click of the mouse. Surely something as easy to do as that comes with no repercussions, right?
        Maybe we need to instill some type of test you must pass before you can share questionable content.

        • @bradmarley Ha! There should be tests for LOTS of things.

        • @ginidietrich Yes. This also goes for having babies and using e-mail properly.

      • KevinVandever

        @ginidietrich  @bradmarley I started to post similar comments. Glad I read your first. But seriously, you should also post on FB that you own your own clothing and bicycle otherwise someone else can claim them. It’s true. I read it on FB.

  • Since the average person doesn’t worry about accountability issues it is even easier to jump on the bandwagon and share things without fear of consequences.
    There is no way not to sound self righteous saying this, but I try to monitor the “facts’ that are presented on blog. If we are having a discussion about an issue and someone says “3 out of five Dentists prefer Trident” I want a source for it.
    Otherwise there is no reason not to just say whatever we want without any regard for fact.

    • @Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes I’m like you – and perhaps it’s because I’ve been blogging all these years. I want to know what’s true and what’s based on bias.

  • gstene

    @ginidietrich today sweeden had “close2 riots” due to Some harrasments (sex accusements )

  • gstene

    @ginidietrich you have to ide Google translate…

    • ginidietrich

      @gstene OMG! That is terrible!

      • gstene

        @ginidietrich yes, that is just… too much…

  • onholdwith

    RT @marshacollier Use of Social Media Comes with Huge Responsibility > Great post from @ginidietrich via @ryanleecox

  • belllindsay

    @ClayMorgan@ginidietrich  Clay, your comment isn’t showing up in my stream here for some reason, but I did read it via the email notification (copy and pasted below), and I couldn’t agree more with what you said.  This is what I spent the weekend saying to people over and over. Stop the media bashing, people are in horrendous circumstances on the ground, even the law enforcement people were releasing incorrect information. Armchair quarterbacks is a term I haven’t heard in a few years, and it’s spot on. 
    “The simple truth is that if law enforcement had given me a name, I’d have reported that name. Why? Law enforcement is generally a credible, reliable, and accurate source of information. In this case, it was probably the only OFFICIAL source of information.   I think most people, at least most journalists, would consider law enforcement sources as credible enough to stop researching and start writing.   Everybody wants to jump on CNN, AP and other media outlets for making such a horrendous mistake. As an AP paper, we originally reported it wrong, since we rely on AP coverage for our national news.   There are things the Monday morning quarterbacks, most of whom have never reported from a crime scene, don’t know. Was there reason to doubt the sources? Was there reason to doubt the information? We weren’t there, so we don’t really know.   If we are going to crucify the traditional news media for occasional mistakes, fine. Let’s also point out the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of pieces of information news media from the major national networks and national newspapers to the small town weeklies get right every single day.

    • @belllindsay  @ginidietrich  Well, I had decided to delete the comment but must have been slow with my finger!  My feelings are sincere, but I’m not in the mood for a media debate today, I guess.
      However, I’m glad you like the comment! 🙂

      • belllindsay

        @ClayMorgan  @ginidietrich Ooops, sorry, and I just shared your comment! HAHAHA

        • @belllindsay  @ginidietrich It’s all good.

    • @belllindsay  @ClayMorgan And that was my point. We are ALL responsible for making sure what we’re sharing is correct.

  • ginidietrich

    @lacramb Thanks Lisa!

  • ginidietrich

    @tbartlett21 Thanks Todd!

  • susanavello

    @atlscgrad thanks Michael

  • Lorrierroh449


  • TLBurriss

    The training that does not stick is, “Just because you can, does not mean you should.” I don’t want laws or systems to prohibit screen copying and sharing, I want people to respect the data & relationships to the source.  Thanks for sharing. Gini.

  • Folks call me crazy when I won’t post an infographic without going to every link to see if the research at least was reproduced correctly, let alone in context. And I remember the days when people wouldn’t DARE share a link without reading  the article they were sending through. 
    And now, we have a perfectly ugly storm of people not only getting news very quickly, but spreading it as fast as they can before verifying if it was accurate. 
    This isn’t new though. I worked at the Starbucks where the murders happened in the 90s. For a full day, some news sources were reporting a girl named Erin dead when it was actually another boy named Aaron. I didn’t get the corrected version when I went to the grief counseling SB set up for us. Almost had a heart attack when she sat down.
    Second reason that I stay off social media and turn off the news for at least two days after any  widely reported tragedy.

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  • danieljenkinsz

    @jeffespo you still in Jamaica mon? text/im/email me your address. thought we had it, but…

  • whump

    @AmyVernon @ginidietrich the failure here was that CNN forgot that you fact check everyone before publishing, including cops, mom, and God.

    • AmyVernon

      @whump @ginidietrich Definitely agree with that. But the death threats and the like that came about because of the FB post were out of line

  • I’m late to the party on this post, but whoa.  When information is sketchy, the mob tends to snowball it anyway… with dynamite or whatever else is in its path.

  • inventivegolf

    @AmyVernon hello amy

  • ginidietrich

    @TrinnieSchley Thanks Trinnie!

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