The pros of verifying

Twitter has become important for disseminating information, but you need to make sure its accurate before publishing. (Photo: Pixabay)

Last Thursday, the UK held a general election which saw a hung parliament. It also saw negotiations begin on a minority government between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservatives, and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

But as the news of the election results came down, so did a statistic on youth voter turnout – which indicated that 72 percent of voters between 18 and 24 voted.

There was widespread praise as the statistic was tweeted near and far, as the issue of young people participating in elections had been raised over the course of the campaign.

There was one problem though – it wasn’t proven to be true. As a result, it raised many questions by journalists and from other observers as to its origins, which began from a voting organization that supports the youth vote, and later tweeted by MPs, political advocates and others.

When all was said and done, it was a talking point on Twitter, and it got the attention of many news organizations, as attempts to verify the claim were made.

Twitter has its pros and cons when it comes to journalism, but one of the issues is that of the quality of information. The Society’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it, but most of all, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

What happened on Twitter that election night serves as a reminder that verifying information is important, even more so in this digital age where anyone can publish anything, whether its true or not.

Here is a guide when it comes to publishing verified information, especially on Twitter.

Don’t run on first instinct: If you’re aware of reports of something, be it politics, business or otherwise, don’t assume its right. Just because Twitter and other platforms are new doesn’t mean the rules surrounding ethics change.

Be honest and forthright: Tell your audience you are trying to confirm the information. Then make inquiries and try to figure out what is going on. Being forthright allows you to be a more credible journalist to your followers and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to cite: Be specific about the reports – you can either quote the tweet or cite the user. Explain to audiences how you’ve spotted the claim and anything you’ve been able to find. Yet, don’t cite endlessly, cite when you feel it is warranted.

Once you’ve confirmed it, tweet it: You have sought the truth, and you now know it is true. Now report it.

Disseminating information on social media is a part of journalism today – ensuring its verified helps ethical journalism thrive on social media. Credibility on the platform is important more than ever, and if you take the time to ensure everything is accurate, people will come back to you for the truth.

When faced with dealing with information that may not be true, remember – it is better to be right than be first. You’ll be a better journalist as a result of it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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