Social Media Reporting on the #Megamall Robbery

My mom and I were just finishing up dinner that Saturday when I checked Twitter. I spotted a tweet from MMDA that said there was an ongoing situation at the mall.

Soon, my timeline was abuzz with retweets from supposed eyewitnesses about what was happening: that shots had been fired, people had stampeded, and shops had shut their roll-up doors for security. No one was allowed in or out of the mall.

Then I started seeing tweets about a hostage situation, but something felt off. It was like listening to a story becoming more elaborate the more it was told.

By that time we had tuned in to AM radio to see if they had gotten ahold of more concrete details. I was wary about trusting too much to Twitter because you never know if your source saw it with their own eyes or is relaying a story someone had in turn told to them.

Then DZMM tweeted that their reporter had interviewed someone who told him a woman told him the hold-up had happened at a jewelry store and the perpetrators were wearing cosplay costumes. Yes, you read that right: the reporter reported hearsay!

This hearsay started spreading as fact, and opinion turned ugly against cosplayers. There was really a cosplay event happening at the mall on the day, but I believed that had the perpetrators been in costume, they weren’t really participants at the event but had just taken advantage of it.

After an hour of us breathlessly awaiting more news, finally SM Megamall and the mayor of Mandaluyong released statements.

There was no hostage-taking.

Only two shots had been fired, not five and not repeatedly as tweets had reported.

The suspects were in plain clothes, not costumes. (Nakuryente ang DZMM dun.)

And the suspects had gotten away in the first two minutes during the initial panic and confusion. They’re still at large.

#Megamall trended, but the hashtag perpetuated a lot of the initial wrong reporting. It wasn’t just a Twitter problem, either: reported it too (and still hasn’t retracted the article). The next morning I found myself still reading reactions from people especially about what the suspects were wearing and whether there had been a hostage situation.

Yes, Twitter and Facebook provided a lot of real-time updates at a time when people were desperate for more information. It’s also during those times when it’s most important to discern what is factual and what is not. The nature of the internet and social media being what it is, wrong information sticks around longer (due to search engine caching of uncorrected articles and tweets). Because I’ve been an internet user for a long time, I’ve learned to turn a critical eye toward “news” I see spreading on social media. However, there are thousands of Filipinos who are new to this and don’t know how to fact-check for themselves.

I think it’s important for people to start educating themselves on how to use social media properly so they aren’t swept up and carried away by every trending topic.

One thought on “Social Media Reporting on the #Megamall Robbery

  • January 28, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Well said. It’s a complicated issue, I think. The benefits of Twitter and other social media, as you rightly put it, are due to their real-time nature, in that both fact and fabrication can spread quickly through the networks; the problems are also due to their real-time nature, in that both fact and fabrication can spread quickly through the networks.

    It’s telling though that “old media” was much slower to react (and correct) than social media. There is something to be said about the good journalists verifying fact before informing the public of said facts; however, the care and attention due to such verification means that when it was time to correct mistakes or issue retractions, it took them much longer. However, that is not to say that those on Twitter were able to issue corrections immediately or that those corrections spread as quickly as the original story.

    It would be nice to have some sort of system where news can flow in such a real-time manner, where the channels an item is reposted/retweeted/whatever can also carry corrections to said item (i.e. someone reposts something, and the originator of the content can issue corrections or additional information, and such is propagated). Food for thought.


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