Just because the term “Social Media” contains the “M” word doesn’t mean professional journalists in the Mainstream Media always know how to use it properly.
Case in point: On Monday morning, popular Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise intentionally posted a fabricated tweet announcing that Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be suspended for five games, rather than the initial six game suspension he received after allegations of personal misconduct. (http://tinyurl.com/29tnu5k). This was a big deal in the world of sports news.
What turned out to be his misguided attempt to illustrate lower standards of fact-checking and basic journalism skills in social media violated the Post’s own guidelines for social media, which requires that Post journalists will be accurate in their posts and transparent about their intentions.
It also violated the standards of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) which states that journalists are responsible for testing the accuracy of all sources of information and that deliberate distortion is never permissible (http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp). Whether or not Wise was aware of the standards, Wise went out on his own to post erroneous information. He never did post that his comments were a “spoof” until it was too late.
The Repercussions of Mike Wise’s false post:
- A 30-day suspension for Wise from the Washington Post and a hit on his own credibility. Some have speculated that he should have been fired.
- According to the Chicago Tribune, (http://tinyurl.com/2at9kuz) other media outlets picked up the story before Wise announced that the whole thing was fabricated, trusting that the Washington Post was a credible source.
- A black eye for the Post and for a mainstream media sector already reeling from lowered public trust. According to a Pew Research study, (http://people-press.org/report/543/) the press accuracy rating hit a two decade low in 2009. In 1985, 55 percent of Americans believed that news organizations were accurate in their reporting. As of 2009, only 29 percent feel that the organizations get their facts straight. If journalists are printing misinformation this number could continue to drop.
At CommCore we tell our clients that credibility and transparency in communications are two key building blocks necessary to create trust with your audiences. This is especially true when communicating in the world of social media where an absence of official professional fact-checking combines with instantaneous global proliferation of information, valid or not.
Twitter is not just a social media platform: it is increasingly perceived by the online and wireless public a breaking news headline service, and it needs to be used with extreme care by professional communicators, something Wise clearly forgot while trying to be too clever by half.
We don’t go along with the crowd that he should be summarily fired. Anyone is entitled to a mistake. Hopefully, the lesson will be learned by others trying their own “hoax.”
What rules, if any, does your organization have for on-the-job use of social media to disseminate information to the public? Do you have other examples of social media missteps?