Three Sandy rumors that circulated on social media: As you might imagine from a story of this magnitude, Sandy has sparked a torrent of photos, videos and other reporting from both the media and a large population armed with smart phones and Twitter accounts. The Breaking News team has been hard at work verifying photos and videos with our real-time curation (The Atlantic has a great collection of fake and verified photos), but we’ve also been investigating several rumored stories that circulated on social media and escalated at the height of the storm:
1. Three feet of water at the NYSE trading floor - It’s unclear where this rumor originated exactly — the National Weather Service says it was a mention in “broadcast media,” while Buzzfeed reports it came from a tweet — but the erroneous report ended up in the NWS internal chat tool. It was subsequently picked up by The Weather Channel’s Hurricane Twitter account and broadcast by CNN, triggering an avalanche of social sharing. (Poynter has a more in-depth look here.)
Our team was already scouring photos and videos in Wall Street, and we saw several tweets questioning the report. We decided to hold off and search for a confirmation:
Moments later, we discovered a tweet from Politico’s Ben White who said a senior NYSE official told him the report was false. Several other reporters, too, from CNBC, WSJ and the Weather Channel followed:
We then fired off a tweet to help spread the word:
2. Coney Island hospital on fire, patients trapped inside - This story wasn’t picked up by the media as widely as NYSE, but it generated quite a flurry on Twitter. It originated from the scanner — FDNY firefighters could be heard having trouble gaining access to Coney Island to respond to a report of a fire at the hospital:
Several others shared the link to listen to the FDNY scanner online, and sure enough, you could hear (as we did) firefighters attempting to negotiate high water to reach the hospital. The story suddenly became a dramatic rescue attempt with hundreds of lives in danger, and it quickly spread across Twitter. However:
We held off on this rumor as well — as with most media, we don’t share unconfirmed scanner traffic — and we shared the FDNY’s tweet that put an end to the drama. Turns out, as this local blog reports, the FDNY was responding to a car fire in the parking lot, which was extinguished before firefighters arrived. As the FDNY tweeted soon after, “There is much misinformation being spread about #Sandy’s impact on #NYC.”
(Slate has more background on how this rumor developed.)
3. Con Ed employees trapped in flooded plant after explosion - This story began with a flash caught on video and Reuters story about a rescue. The video showed an electrical explosion in Manhattan, and it was widely shared on Twitter. After Con Ed acknowledged an explosion at a substation in the area, we shared the clip on Breaking News, but we held off on any other news about the substation. While the clip is the real deal, Reuters reported that a full-scale rescue of trapped employees was underway, sparking another flurry of Twitter rumors. A couple hours later, Con Ed tweeted:
With any major story these days, the media will make mistakes, just as we have made in previous stories. Twitter served both as a rumor and truth machine, simultaneously spreading and debunking false reports, leaving some at wit’s end:
This is why we believe Breaking News — not just as a Twitter account, but as a mobile and online destination in its own — fulfills a key role in the evolving new world of journalism. You could argue that Twitter “self-corrects” in real time, but in reality, it isn’t always that fast:
Few Twitter users are following all the journalists that journalists follow, and many are left hanging when a rumor takes on a life of its own. Just as Twitter is important as a communications platform, so are the news organizations that verify social media reports — both on social media and on their own coverage platforms.
It’s always a good reminder that today’s news consumer should not live by social media alone — as Twitter would say, it’s an ecosystem.
- Post by @corybe