There has been a lot of talk regarding misreporting and rogue messages coming out of social media. Crowdsourcing and social media websites were quick to jump on suspects in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, which turned out to be false. Not long after that, the Associated Press (AP) Twitter account was hacked and false news caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to fall 145 points, which it soon recovered from, but not before causing panic.
Personally, I am not too worried about the AP incident. The truth is, in this social media age we can expect these kinds of things to happen more often. The important point to remember, however, is how quickly social media and blogs are corrected.
In the broader scheme of things, this is a problem that we will learn how to deal with. The first time it feels like a big deal, but if it happens again, and keeps happening, we will also get better in reducing the response time and it will become less of an issue. People will stop worrying and stop overreacting.
What does concern me, however, is the public’s perception of informal sources of media on the Internet as authoritative and respectable as AP.
The opinions offered by these informal sources are not subject to the same standards of fact checking and editing. People do not see the difference between sources such as the Drudge Report and AP, and this egalitarian viewing of media sources by the public will always be a persistent problem. Of course, there will always be informed readers who know the difference but a majority probably will blur the line.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying hacking is not a problem and that companies should not safeguard themselves against it. They should, and they should be more careful about their cyber-security. They have an image to protect, after all. However, it is difficult to protect against random acts such as the Twitter one this week, and companies should instead focus on investing in a good communications team – one that understands the company and its values and is quick to respond to social media and any adverse impacts.
In general, companies, newspapers, politicians, academics – they all have to be quicker in their response and get used to this new reality of social media. Wikipedia is a great example of a crowd-sourced website that has managed to eliminate virtually all false information by responding quickly to errors and fraud. Unfortunately, it’s not easy for every informal news source to raise enough money to have the same level of accuracy as Wikipedia.
Check out all the Forum:Blog’s posts on Cyber Security and Digital Wildfires
Author: Tyler Cowen, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, USA; Member of the Global Agenda Council on New Economic Thinking
Image: A man is seen typing on a computer keyboard REUTERS/Kacper Pempel