Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Losing Control of the News Following Terror Attack

This article courtesy of Honest Reporting http://honestreporting.com/losing-control-of-the-news/ describes the emotions of a parent as reports of a terror attack unfold with rumours and more rumours until the facts unfold.

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. I was outside walking my dog when I got the call from my daughter.
“Dad, there’s been a terrorist attack at my school. The teachers told us all to call home.” “Where are you now?” I asked.
“We’re at the school and the Army and police are everywhere, but I don’t know what happened yet.”
“O.K., call me again when you know more.”
From my phone, I checked out a few websites of Israeli media. There were stories about the stabbing in Tel Aviv earlier in the day, but no breaking news of a local terrorist attack yet.
My eldest daughter and my youngest son go to schools in an educational complex (referred to as the “Matnas”) near the community of Alon Shevut. The complex houses two girls high schools, an elementary school, a swimming pool, basketball court, and the regional municipal offices. A couple thousand kids go to school there (including two of mine) and in the afternoon, they often walk over to the bus stop on the corner and take either an Egged bus or catch a ride with someone. Right down the road is the regional police station and an army base. People pick their kids up from there after school all the time.
The bus stop across from the school entrance is very close from the one where the three teenagers were kidnapped and murdered at the beginning of the summer. Yet the kidnapping took place at night long after the schools were closed for the day. Usually, with school in session and armed guards right at the entrance, it is considered a safe enough place.
Five minutes after my daughter’s call, my other daughter called me. This year she started school on the Golan, a few hours away. But many of her friends still attend school at the Matnas.
“Dad, I heard a girl from the school was just killed. She was 14.” I could hear the panic in her voice. She is 14.
“How did you hear?” I asked. “People are putting this on ‘WhatsApp” (a texting app)
I told her to hold on, that nothing official had appeared in the media yet.
At this point, the kids in the schools started posting all sorts of rumors. At one time, two school girls were reported killed, a 14 year old and a 17 year old. Even though I had just spoken with both my daughters, they happen to be 14 and 17. I furiously started checking out every website for more information.
At this point, the media knew there was a story. But since only minutes had passed, there was little concrete information available. So what did they do? Not wanting to risk missing the story, they started reporting some of the rumors spreading on the internet as facts. The Times of Israel ran a headline referring to a murdered 14 year old. Other articles said that the terrorist had been killed by soldiers.
Now that it was in the media, many people started posting the news reports on social media. Facebook and Twitter fed the media which in turn fed the social networks. It was a huge cycle of disinformation caused by an immense desire to know everything instantly. Something that is just not possible.
It took about 45 minutes for the full details to come to light. That is actually amazingly fast.
But it seemed to take forever.
A terrorist had driven his car into the bus stop, missing the people there. He then jumped out of his car and stabbed to death 26 year old Dalia Lemkus. He then turned his knife on another man waiting at the stop. A passerby saw what was going on, stopped his car, and tried to wrestle the attacker to the ground. While this was happening, one of the high school girls who was at the scene ran to the school gate and yelled for the guard. He responded immediately and ran about 50 meters to where he could shoot the terrorist. The girl who had called for help gave her version of events to other girls there. Within seconds, the schools were locked down, and the news was flying from the students’ phones.
It is an important lesson in the way we get information today. Sometimes stories are written that report inaccuracies because of the bias of the journalist. We certainly have seen our share of those, and it’s what we spend most of our time at HonestReporting fighting.
But other times, the nature of how information spreads these days and our need to know what happened instantly is what allows false information to be published.
I was standing outside with my phone, going from one site to another trying to figure out what had happened. While I knew the first reports would most likely be wrong, with my daughter so close to the scene, I was desperate for information. I did not want to wait those 45 minutes — and I’m someone who works with the media every day.
The proliferation of smart phones and other mobile internet devices means that not only can one be a consumer of news at any time, but also that anyone can be a journalist within seconds. Anyone who happens to be be close to where a news event occurs becomes a reporter. And the media take those reports as seriously as those filled by professional correspondents.

It’s just something to keep in mind that unless you have actually seen something in person, it would be best not to post on social media before the facts come to light. I am sure I was not the only one using every source I could think of at the time to learn what happened. Reporting news is a huge responsibility, and what you put on social media can spread further than you could imagine.

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