Can Social Media Be Helpful?

Investigative journalists have started to use social media websites to gather information, but others are debating if these sites can in fact be trusted as reliable sources.

We carry the instincts to know more information then we already do. We crave for the truth and the 5W’s (who, what, when, where, and why). Talking to a variety of people and digging for the truth are some of the reasons why investigative reporters love their job. It’s a secret mission that they want to accomplish and reveal to the public, but they can’t do it alone. The help of the people is needed, so investigative reporters can get different perspectives and reasons of why things happened the why they did.

Talking to people via phone and in person are the usual ways reporters get information, but what about the Web? In recent years, social media and the internet as a whole has helped reporters get information at a faster rate. The Web has grown to be more than just a chatting source, but also as a way to attract people to a story as it develops.

Facebook and GoogleDocs have become some of the nation’s most useful social media websites and journalists are taking them to their advantage. ProPublica, a non-profit, self-governing newsroom that produces investigative journalism for the public, has used these two websites to gather data and information through questionnaires on GoogleDocs and personal stories through Facebook groups. “ProPublica Patient Harm Group” is a Facebook group created so victims and their families, healthcare professionals, and many others could write posts about their personal experiences and problems with the recent medical errors that have been occurring.

Even though the Facebook group and the GoogleDoc questionnaires are being used as reliable information for their investigation, ProPublica still has to be open-minded and see if these sources are valid ones to trust. Unfortunately, posts are regulated and guidelines have to be set, so that people are not disrespected. They have no problem deleting posts that are harsh in tone and they pick out stories that suit their stories best.

Another news organization that has uses social media as an investigative tool is Talking Points Memo Media. They are a digital political news organization that uses the help of social media to interact with its readers. The readers have even  helped TPM Media go through thousands of documents for an investigation. Investigator Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, mentioned that using the help of readers lowers investigation costs and saves everyone a headache. TMP Media may have gotten help, but keep in mind that these readers are followers of these journalists and stories may have a bias twist to them.

Do you think these social media websites are reliable when it comes to investigative reporting? Keeping in mind that posts and questionnaires are regulated, do you think ProPublica is showing a good example of keeping an honest Facebook group and pulling out truthful posts for their stories? Is TPM Media doing the right thing by using the help of its readers or should they do the investigation all by themselves? Should investigative reporters rely on these websites for information or should they be avoided?

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