Posted by Renee Schmidt

Is social media as reliable as the mainstream media for news? It’s hard to say if news on social media can be trusted, but it is surely an effective complement to mainstream media.

It was a software consultant who first tweeted about the events leading up to Osama Bin Ladin’s capture and death. Sohaib Athar (@ReallyVirtual) tweeted that “extraordinary choppers” were in his area of Pakistan. He didn’t know at the time that it was a U.S. operation to capture Bin Ladin. Because of his tweets, several mainstream media outlets followed up on the story and found that Osama had been captured and was dead. Before long, the entire internet was abuzz with the Osama news gone viral.

Similarly, is the story of  Neda Soltan, an Iranian woman shot in broad daylight during one of the Iranian protests. A video of the travesty surfaced on the Internet, later spreading like wildfire via social media.

Can news on social media be trusted? Or, rather, is social media as reliable as the mainstream media?  That’s hard to say.  But what I can tell you is that social media is an effective complement to mainstream media, without which the world would unlikely know about Neda or of how Bin Ladin’s capture actually started.  Social media breaks news faster –for instance, in the case of natural disasters, like earth quakes. Eventually mainstream media but picks up the story, but it takes time. Take the death of Whitney Houston as an example, which was tweeted by @chilemasgrande, nearly a half hour before mainstream broke the story.

Is Twitter taking over the media? Not really. In fact, the media generally mines Twitter posts to gather and verify news and events. But what’s journalism anyway if not the correct reporting of events and people involved in it?  In a sense, Twitter then, is a generally good source for news sourcing. Besides, even the mainstream media makes mistakes. Take the case of the football coach Joe Paterno, falsely reported dead on Jan 21, 2012; when really, he didn’t die until the next day, on the 22nd.

BBC News recently reported that “Social media is giving new powers to those who engaged very little with politics, or old-style ways of connecting with MPs, before. Twitter and Facebook allow them to take the lead with campaigns, such as aiming to save a local hospital or planting trees in a park.” These may seem like small details, but they mean a lot to individuals and communities that wish to empower themselves.

Twitter and other social networks give people a voice. Take the case Karen Klein who was bullied by kids and verbally insulted. Her video went viral and resulted in the raising over $500,000 in donations via crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Without social media, I don’t feel Karen’s story would have hit the mainstream media.  Why?  Because Karen Klein was no celebrity and bullying is not considered good copy by editors who generally prefer ‘bigger’ news.  This is what I mean by individual empowerment.

Has Twitter changed the way news is managed? Yes. Does news on social media compliment the mainstream? Yes. Is everything on Twitter true? NO. That is why we always have to confirm the posts and verify!