Web Culture

Should Journalists Use or Ignore Social Media? Two Examples to Think About

Shay Meinecke 16-07-2015

Has social media destroyed journalism? That question has been frequently asked with the rise of Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media sources being used in the news Snapchat's Discover: Why It's a Social News Revolution Snapchat is more than just sending pictures and videos to your friends. Snapchat has grown into a powerful tool, bringing the world of news, events and trends to millions of users in a snap. Read More . Proponents say social media brings a wider variety of people to an issue and can give a voice to those who were once voiceless and overlooked.


“It means we can get information from corners of the world where previously there was very little. It gives the ‘voiceless’ a chance to speak. It democratizes media and allows viewers, listeners and readers to participate.” Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor of UK’s Channel 4 News

There are many others who say that social media shouldn’t be used in reporting, that social media can’t be trusted 4 Reasons You Should Never Trust Social Media You just got burned in an argument because, once again, you quoted something you saw on social media. Why does this keep happening? Read More . These people point out the many times that reporters, sometimes big name reporters, overlook or under-check their sources and wrongfully report on an issue.

Dylan Roof Is Not a “My Little Pony” Fan

Such was the case when Pulitzer Prize winner Frances Robels published a New York Times article claiming Dylan Roof – the shooter in Charleston, South Carolina who killed nine people at a predominantly black church – was a fan of “My Little Pony” and had a Tumblr account detailing his “brony” love.

Benjamin Wareing, the 16-year-old behind the act, tricked the investigative journalist into thinking he was friends with Dylan Roof. Wareing said in an interview with Fusion that he never met Roof nor communicated with him, never found a Tumblr account belonging to Roof, and that the “My Little Pony” story was created out of thin air. His reason for wanting to dupe reporters? Wareing says he misled journalists to show, “how easily media can be influenced without proof” and to highlight how some reporters obtain information without fact-checking.

In this case, Frances Robels and the New York Times were led to believe that they could rely on their sources, when, instead, they were being purposefully misled to prove a point: social media can’t be trusted.


What Studies Suggest

A report released in 2014 by ING showed that many reporters use social media, despite having doubts about its reliability. The report detailed that half of the international journalists who were asked to participate in the survey relied on social media as their main source of information, although around a third of them admitted that social media posts are not reliable sources of information.

Further still, half of the journalists surveyed said they publish first and check facts later, with 80 percent of journalists saying they occasionally publish without any fact-checking at all.

A Growing Trend?

The journalists surveyed said they expect media groups to rely more on user-generated content Top 7 TV News Outlets That Accept Your Newsworthy Pictures And Videos Juice up your cell. If news is breaking, be on the scene. Here are seven television news outlets waiting to accept your newsworthy pictures and videos. This the golden age of citizen journalism. Read More (tweets, videos, pictures) in their reports, and that public opinion used and accepted as truth will grow in importance. Furthermore, journalism is expected to be driven more by views and clicks, and less by content.


Additionally, journalists are feeling the pressure from their editors to publish as quickly as possible, with 52 percent of PR professionals saying they are being contacted less to verify facts since the advent of social media.

The expectation to “publish first and correct later,” a motto used in the report to detail the trend among the journalists surveyed, might be on the rise.

News and Clicks

Publish First, Check Later

Is this really the trend among journalists?  According to the ING survey conducted, it is. Using social media is a newer tool for journalists that, according to Jane Elizabeth, isn’t being fact-checked correctly yet.


To address this problem, Jane Elizabeth, Senior Research Project Manager at the American Press Institute, has created a fact-checking project aimed at helping journalistsinfuse solid fact-checking into the journalistic process — whether it’s writing stories, building charts, making videos, or creating any element for news.” The goal of the project is to train media organizations to use better fact-checking processes with social media and other sources. 

Furthermore, the paper “Where and Why Do Journalists Fact-Check” released at the Midwest Political Science Association conference showed that reporters fact-check politicians more than before, which shows that while journalists are pressured by their editors to get a story out as soon as possible (often ignoring facts), there are organizations who have realized this fact-checking problem and are addressing it. It is up to journalists and media organizations to adopt these tools when using social media or other sources in their reports.

Social Media Can Be Used Wisely

Despite this trending problem, there are journalists that are fact-checking. A report was released by think tank the Atlantic Council in which social media posts and open source information were fact-checked to show possible Russian military operations in Ukraine, a position often denied by Russian authorities.


The report “Hiding in Plain Sight” looked at social media usage among supposed Russian military personnel, often finding selfies of the soldiers in Ukraine. The soldier selfies were tracked by location technology used by the user’s phone or application.

“We’re using open source and social media investigation, which means looking at things that are posted online. For example, we’ve got soldiers that are posting videos and photographs of themselves in both Russia and Ukraine. We’ve got images of (Russian) military vehicles that are appearing in Russia and then Ukraine – vehicles that are unique to Russia that are appearing in Ukraine time and time again.” Eliot Higgins, citizen journalist Top 5 Online Resources for the Citizen Journalist Read More

According to the report, many of the pictures taken by the soldiers showed credible evidence that Russian military personnel were inside Ukraine around the same time supposed military operations were being conducted by Russia.

What Do You Think?

These two examples show that social media can be used properly or improperly. Should social media be used by journalists in their reports? Has Facebook, for example, helped journalists How Facebook Is Changing News Journalism for the Better News outlets are considering publishing stories straight to Facebook. It's easy to be cynical. But this change could be a good thing – for readers and journalists. Read More in their reports? Will reporting get better because of social media, or will it get worse?

Image Credit: journalist making notes via Shutterstock, News and social media via Shutterstock

Related topics: Politics, Twitter.

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  1. Anonymous
    July 17, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    As it is told in this article there are two sites of social media whether it is reliable or not. In our time I strongly believe that journalist cannot ignore social media due to its importance on society. But at the same time it gives big responsibility to the readers. Readers should check what they read before they believe it and investigate more. Neither journalist can ignore the social media nor readers can believe it directly. As a Turkish citizen I experienced both sites of journalism on social media everyday. Government controls the media, common folk uses social media to say what they want to say. In Turkey citizens forced to believe everything what government says, social media helps to show what actually happening rather than believing blindly everything on television. You can argue the truth behind every news shared on social media and I believe you definitely should. This is the importance of social media, not only journalists but also readers have obligations to seek the truth but without social media we (people in turkey) are blind to the truth...

    • Shay Meinecke
      July 17, 2015 at 5:31 pm

      This is incredibly interesting, seeing as how the Turkish government, as you say, controls the media. It seems that in order for news not to be suppressed, social media has to help issues get into the main stream, which puts a bigger responsibility on the journalist (and reader) to fact-check and verify content.

      Thanks for your comment

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2015 at 10:39 pm

      I love that you emphasise that readers too need to seek methods of verification, yep media literacy now is probably more importat than it has ever been before!

  2. Anonymous
    July 17, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Very happy to read about this topic as I just recently wrote a piece on a related topic, glad see others dealing with the issue! Though some may argue otherwise, we cannot deny the significance of social media and how it makes up a large portion of our perceived realities, for example some stories break on social media through viral videos/images or are pointed to through trending topics. So to omit it from reporting would kind of deny stories that element of integrity in my opinion. I think the question is not if journalists should/should not use social media in their reporting or if it will make reports better or worse. The ultimate challenge lies in how this social media is employed and what strategies journalists develop to cope with such deep levels of hypertexuality, be it through programs like Jane Elizabeths or having trusted opinion leaders on the ground/in the web circles with whom one can cross check stories. Maybe it's because I don't for a big media house but personally I don't believe in the "publish now, check later" philosophy, because I'd rather be safe than sorry. We've seen many lose credibility or jobs over wrongful reporting. To me, in the end social media is a tool and not the product/material so verification is always a priority.

    • Shay Meinecke
      July 17, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      You're right, social media is significant and used by journalists more and more, which is good and bad. On one hand, we have journalists who are misusing the tool. On the other hand, we have journalists who are using the tool appropriately. The cases that are misused are the ones that are highlighted and bring about this debate.

      In an effort to bypass this embarrassing trend of "publish first, check later," journalists need to be trained on how to properly verify social media sources. I think now that the problem has been identified, a solution will soon follow.

  3. Anonymous
    July 17, 2015 at 8:57 am

    I approve of this article's overall message.

    • Shay Meinecke
      July 17, 2015 at 5:24 pm

      What do you like about it?

      • Anonymous
        July 18, 2015 at 10:51 am

        The thrust of it resounds with me.

  4. Anonymous
    July 16, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Social media is nothing more than gossip. There is a kernel of truth or fact in every gossip but to base a journalistic article on gossip is analogous to constructing a building on a foundation of loose sand.

    Journalists should not use social media as their main source. However, no matter what we think, they will use social media more and more.

    • Shay Meinecke
      July 17, 2015 at 12:11 am

      The growing trend does seem to indicate that social media will be used more and more.

  5. Shay Meinecke
    July 16, 2015 at 11:18 pm

    More needs to be done to help journalists. Jane Elizabeth's program (and others like it) seems intriguing and likely able to help journalists verify facts and use social media posts appropriately.

    The case "Hiding in Plain Sight" is a great example of journalism at its finest, using social media and tools readily available to get to the bottom of an issue.

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2015 at 12:12 am

      "More needs to be done to help journalists"
      Definitely. But Jane Elizabeth's program isn't it. Considering that in journalism you must be the first to break a story, otherwise you are only providing the background, there is a very strong incentive to publish first and verify at some future time. In today's world of instant communication, journalists cannot afford to be checking facts and sources if they want to break some story.

      "The case “Hiding in Plain Sight” is a great example of journalism at its finest, using social media and tools readily available to get to the bottom of an issue."
      As the saying goes "Even a blind chicken finds seeds every once in a while". Whoever broke the story, got lucky by properly analyzing seemingly unrelated data. Usually it is the intelligence agencies which perform this kind of analysis.

      • Shay Meinecke
        July 17, 2015 at 8:45 am

        In my opinion, the "brony" story didn't need to be published so quickly and could have gone through the fact-checking process (which may not have taken so long), and still could have been relevant even if published a day later. The article wasn't a timely piece, it was an add-on article that provided context of who Dylan Roof was/is and why he may have been a troubled kid.

        The article that needed to be broke first, was the actual shooting. And usually these type of stories don't need a lot of background. Usually the readers just need to know who did what, where, and when - the whys, hows, and background comes later.

        Skipping the fact-checking process was an irresponsible and lazy act by the NYT, and they know it.

        • Anonymous
          July 17, 2015 at 9:51 pm

          Are YOU a Brony?

  6. Anonymous
    July 16, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    I think we need to get some of these so called journalists fired for failure to verify facts. It is far too easy to make up anything and upload it on a social media site. Once there, there will be gullible people that accept it as fact. A REAL journalist should not be one of those.

    • Anonymous
      July 17, 2015 at 8:59 am

      I'm afraid you are deeply misguided, sir.