The Social Media Informant: Information Freedom or The Ultimate Rumor Mill?

For Handshake 2.0:

Where were you when Michael Jackson died? I was on Twitter, watching the tweets turn almost completely from Ahmadinejad to the King of Pop faster than I could get up and tell my grandmother to say her prayers for Michael Jackson’s family along with Farrah Fawcett’s and Ed McMahon’s. After the May 19 hysteria over Patrick Swayze, I tweeted with some cynicism: “did michael jackson really die, or is twitter the rumor mill from hell?” Of course, as we now know, this time it was true.

As Twitter struggled to keep up with the heavy traffic, Wikipedia had users stumbling over one another trying to report or prevent reports of Jackson’s death prematurely.

CNET reported:

Some Wikipedians repeatedly deleted references to Jackson’s alleged demise, saying in separate comments that “This is not yet verified,” “He’s not dead,” “Premature edits,” and “ONCE AGAIN, HE IS NOT DEAD, JUST STOP.”

How sad news was shared and spread has shown the immense power behind social media.  But this makes me wonder:  Do social media forums give us information freedom by protecting us from giant media conglomerates or do they make us instead more vulnerable to intellectual vandalism?

Maybe we still think Twitter is a gossip mill more than a reference, but do we trust Wikipedia – one of the first sources to come up on any Google Search?

I performed an act of information vandalism on a Wikipedia article at approximately 10:30 PM EST on 6/25/09.

I’ve been told numerous times that Wikipedia is extremely trustworthy and that it takes mere seconds for anything incorrect to be fixed.  That may be true for a popular article or one for a brand or politician, but what about the articles for everyday baked goods?  Who’s scrutinizing that text?

So far?  No one.


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