Social media perpetuates active rumor mill

Published 12:01 am Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Sit in a newsroom long enough and you’ll hear all sorts of things.

Some of the things we hear are true and need to be reported. Other things we hear turn out not to be true at all.

They are just rumors based on hearsay. Sometimes those rumors have a basis in fact but other times they turn out not to be true at all.

Email newsletter signup

More often than not, those rumors are propagated via social media.

Nowadays anyone with a smartphone, tablet or desktop computer is a more powerful publisher than any newspaper was 25 years ago.

Post something on the internet, and it has the same potential as any news organization to reach vast audiences.

Just because someone posted it on the internet, does not make it true, however.

Sometimes the people who post those rumors are just passing on info they’ve heard without bothering to verify the information.

Increasingly, newsrooms across the nation, including The Natchez Democrat, have to rundown those rumors to try to get to the truth, especially if it is something of a public concern.

Take for instance, a rumor that recently made the rounds of social media claiming someone was threatening to shoot up a local big box store over a recent weekend.

We poked around and found out no such threats were made or reported to any law enforcement agencies.

Because of the nature of that rumor, The Natchez Democrat decided to report on it because it was a matter of public concern and we were able to quell some of the fears the rumor sparked in the community.

Later we learned that particular social media posting was a viral hoax making the rounds in virtually every community in the United States and had no basis in reality.

People unwittingly passed it on via their social media platforms causing unnecessary confusion.

Most rumors we run down and learn are not true, however, we do not write about because they have no basis in fact.

If we report such rumors it just helps perpetuate and lend credence to such rumors, especially if the rumors have to do with private businesses, which are not subject to the same public scrutiny of the media as governmental entities.

Sometimes a rumor might have some basis in truth but if it deals with a private business or individual, they are under no obligation to address the topic in a public forum. In some cases, passing on the rumor could play a role in how a situation works out in the end.

Therefore, if it is not of a public nature and we cannot confirm a rumor, most of the time we will not report on that rumor.

Sooner or later, however, someone who saw the unsubstantiated reports on social media will call or write the newspaper asking why we are covering up whatever the rumor was and question why we are not doing our job.

My response to them is simple. We did not report the rumor because it was not true or could not be confirmed on the record. If you have credible information from an authoritative source on the record we will be happy to report it.

As a news organization, we are committed to reporting news of importance to our readership. We also are committed to verifying the information we publish to ensure it is fair, accurate and true.

If it does not meet those criteria, we will not publish it in print on the internet or on social media.

So, if you see a rumor floating around on social media and we don’t report on it, more than likely it is because it isn’t true.

Scott Hawkins is editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at 601-44-3540.