Balancing speed and accuracy in the rush for news

Balancing speed and accuracy in the rush for news

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 Flight MH370 unfolded in the past 36 hours, that was one of the things that stood out as both mainstream and online media offered blanket coverage about the incident.

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

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

Accustomed as we all are now to blanket media coverage of any breaking news event, the one thing we have not learnt to cope with is the lack of information.

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 morning 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 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 when people have turned to social media as alternate means of obtaining information from the ground rather than from the authorities who may have no idea what is going on.

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.

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