Balancing speed and accuracy in news rush

Balancing speed and accuracy in news rush
Ms Arni Marlina's stepbrother (bottom right) was on MH370 when it went missing. With the proliferation of social media and online news portals, chances of rumours spreading multiply exponentially.

One of the great ironies of the information age is learning to deal with information scarcity amid the white noise of information overload.

As the saga of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 unfolded, that was one of the things that stood out as both the mainstream and online media offered blanket coverage.

The beleaguered MAS has come under fire for its slow response to its plane going missing over the South China Sea early on Saturday morning.

There has been enough information, or rather, lack thereof, in the hours following the first news break to make it evident that the airline had little idea what happened to MH370.

As consumers of news, we are all greedy for any scrap of a big story that comes our way. And, with the proliferation of social media and online news portals, this hunger for information means that the chances of rumours spreading multiply exponentially.

One of the first rumours that spread like wildfire on social media at about 10am on Saturday was that the plane had "safely landed". A person had posted this on social media, saying he "got news from a friend".

Soon after, the talk was that the plane had landed in Vietnam. This was soon overtaken by rumours of an emergency landing in Nanning, in southern China.

No doubt, social media can break news faster than the traditional media, given that everyone armed with a smartphone can tweet or post updates on Facebook. This ability has proven useful in times of catastrophe.

I was in Boston last year at the time of the marathon bombing incident. Like many others, I turned to social media for the latest information, trawling the platform for hashtags.

The draw was the immediacy of the updates. But those soundbites can sometimes be unverified.

In the chaotic hours immediately after the Boston bombs went off, there were tweets about unexploded devices being found in other busy city areas.

Luckily, there was no mass panic. But those tweets, plausible as they sounded, could have triggered negative reactions that could have caused more harm.

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