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Don’t rush to be first, rush to be right


Today, a man walked into a Connecticut elementary school and killed 26 people. 20 of them were innocent, scared and helpless little children.

The shooter’s name doesn’t matter. Correction, his name shouldn’t have mattered.

In journalism and social media, something happens to us whenever news breaks. In our quest to inform, we forget basic principles we learned during the first day of college. Check your sources. Fact check everything once, twice and then a few more times for good measure. And most important never rush to judgement, because you don’t want to be the one that gets it wrong.

Today, a lot of people got it wrong. I got it wrong.

It started when a law enforcement official mistakenly named the suspect’s brother as the shooter. The incorrect name, Ryan Lanza, was picked up by wire services, TV stations and social media. Then the race was on to find Ryan Lanza on Facebook and Twitter. And without so much as a hint of confirmation, a photo from Ryan Lanza’s Facebook page went viral online and on TV.

What did Ryan Lanza have to say about that?

“Fuck you CNN it wasn’t me,” for starters. “I’m on the bus home now it wasn’t me” and “IT WASN’T ME I WAS AT WORK IT WASN’T ME.”

It wasn’t him.

But that didn’t matter. Ryan was as good as guilty. As you can see from the tweet at the top, I included Ryan’s name in my tweet after the AP reported it. Once the AP retracted the name after finding out what the law enforcement official did, I tweeted the following:

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I understand we all make mistakes. I was mad enough that what I tweeted was wrong, even though what I was getting was from our official sources. Sadly, Twitter doesn’t have a function that lets you correct a tweet. But no matter, what’s important is to make sure to set the record straight so no one is left confused.

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My mistake was taking the information in the wire story and sharing it. That’s my job, but in hindsight I wish I waited a little longer. The Facebook mistake I mention above was taking that one step further and digitally crucifying an innocent man. I wasn’t going to have any part of that. I saw it happening, but there was nothing I could do to stop it. I admire some of the people who were tweeting pleas to stop the sharing madness.

It’s important to report the news. But at the end of the day, page views mean nothing. Video views mean nothing. Retweets mean nothing.

The rush to be first means nothing. The quest to be right means everything.

About Scott Kleinberg

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