Questionable social media news

By Cameron Whiteley

Don’t believe everything you read on social media.

That is the lesson from a concerning trend that continues to emerge through groups and individuals who post factually dubious information on digital platforms about crimes and other information.

One such group has more than 39000 members across Victoria.

An example happened on Tuesday last week (January 15) when a new post on this group declared a man had been stabbed in Mooroopna.

The post was shared 113 times and was likely viewed by thousands of people and presumably many would have thought this to be factual.

The News contacted local police and the central police media unit in Melbourne in an attempt to verify, or disprove, this reported information.

Official information from police confirmed, in fact, there had been no such stabbing, and that a minor altercation had occurred between parties with minor injuries and minimal police assistance required.

A stark difference between the actual circumstances and those of a stabbing, one would suggest.

One wonders where the information was sourced and if attempts were made to verify the reports via official channels.

The post remained published well after our verification of the true circumstances of the incident.

Some would refer to this as fake news. Personally, I detest that phrase as it’s sometimes used by people to describe a story critical of them or not aligned to their views, despite being factually correct.

So let’s just say this one was incorrect.

Sourcing information from police is not always as straightforward as some may assume. The contact person may be out of the office, at a scene or on a day off.

But we persist by doing everything in our power to find out the details we need to help our readers be as informed as possible.

Our journalists are trained to find the facts and verify information as true and correct, including in crime stories.

We strive to always get it right. If we don’t, we admit it and correct ourselves.

No doubt the digital age has brought with it significant change and challenges in reporting, in terms of urgency and immediacy while still maintaining a focus on accuracy.

The job of media outlets and organisations is to deliver the news that matters to communities, towns and cities with integrity and accuracy. It’s why trust is so important.

But the continued emergence of social media has enabled anyone to be a citizen journalist of sorts.

In many cases, this is a good thing.

It’s a chance for people to use platforms for significant good, such as spreading the message of a missing person in an attempt to find them.

It’s also a wonderful creative outlet for many.

But it’s also brought with it plenty of challenges, not the least of which is questionable reporting of events and incidents.

Cameron Whiteley is The News editor.