Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

April 18, 2013

MARK MAYNARD: For better or worse, social media here for keeps

ASHLAND — Social media has its good and bad points. The good is the instant communication with friends and family that continue to make us smile all day long. Most people don’t even bother picking up the phone anymore — just Tweet it out or post it on Facebook.

Text messaging has also replaced phone conversations. We live in a world of dinging and binging.

Because of the ability to post news almost instantly, in real time, as it happens, with photos and video, it has the news media scrambling to keep up the pace. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore if the news is accurate — as long as your first with a Tweet or a Facebook post.

There was a prime example of that on Wednesday when CNN first reported a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings was in custody. Other media followed in line, including The Associated Press, which is vigilant about sourcing (Just to be fair, we posted the AP story as well online and linked to Facebook).

It wasn’t long before the feds were saying there was no arrest and nobody was in custody.

Now, CNN didn’t just make up that information — somebody said something somewhere to them. But where we used to check and double check those sources before going with the story, the pressure to be “first,” because of so many social media reporters ushered in this ill-timed report that mostly caused confusion.

The talking heads on CNN were left to try and explain what was or wasn’t happening in Boston. I wonder how many lost some confidence in their reporting?

The need to be first has always been there, but never more than in today’s social media world. Everybody is a reporter because everybody has a cellphone — with a camera, video camera and the ability to text instant messages. And the prevailing feeling is if it’s posted on Facebook, then it must be true. That’s a bad assumption. We saw on Facebook this week the photo of a young girl running who the information said was an 8-year-old who had been killed in the Boston Marathon explosions.

It was a hoax yet how many of you out there shared or reposted that information to your Facebook page?

Facebook and the Twitter-verse have been binging with regularity since the Boston Marathon. They have led us to many good stories, many real stories and, in the end, the social media users may have a hand in solving this heinous crime. It’s hard to imagine someone somewhere didn’t take a photo or video of the perpetrators.

My guess is the feds, who have some of the smartest people in the world working on this, will eventually learn the truth and bring justice to the Boston Marathon tragedy. But it remains another example of how our world is spinning out of control. You are left to wonder where the next tragedy will be and will you be part of it?

There is evil among us around every corner.

Amy Compston, the Ashland woman who ran in the marathon and whose family was standing in a spot between the bombing area for most of the day, distributed more than 1,200 religious tracts during the family’s week in Boston.

They gave one to a man near the finish line area who was dressed from head to toe in green, including a bright green nylon covering his face. He also wore a vulgar sign that read “Run bitch!” The family handed him a Bible tract that mentioned guns called Gun Slinger. He said, “Isn’t that a coincidence?” and ripped up the tract.

Steve Wesolowski, Amy’s father, said the man definitely left the family feeling uneasy and they wondered to themselves if he had anything to do with what happened.

Compston finished 22 minutes prior to the bombing and her large family — 21 came to Boston to watch her — left the area around the finish line only a few minutes before the bombs were ignited.

Compston, her husband, Chris, and the rest of the family were safe from harm. She immediately put a message on Facebook that everybody was OK, calming many fears from Ashland about their safety. That’s an example of how social media worked for good.

For better or worse, and there’s certainly a little bit of both, social media’s role is how it is used in the world we live in today. Let’s just hope we learn how to use it responsibly.

MARK MAYNARD can be reached at mmaynard@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2648.

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