Twitter journalism on suicide deaths a danger?


Unspun is forever amazed and amused by how incessantly journalists maintain that social media is journalism 2.0.

Except in a very limited number of cases social media publishers – the Twitterers and bloggers – are adding context to existing information. Rarely do they go out, find and verify the information before reporting it.

This has been and will be the nature of social media for some time to come. Those who recognise the beast for what it is will find it extremely informative and helpful. These are the people that may use it as a tip to what’s happening and consume the information with huge grains of salt, using what’ published more as a general indicator than an instrument of truth.

Those who fail to see this will forever be left pronouncing biased opinions about how inaccurate and misleading social media can be, thereby upholding the status quo of mainstream journalism.

Piece of Mind: Two Jakarta Mall Suicides Demonstrate The Dangers of Twitter Journalism

Armando Siahaan

It was on Monday, around 4:30 p.m. I was in the newsroom working on an article when my BlackBerry vibrated, indicating an incoming message, which was grim news.

A friend messaged me that an unidentified person had plunged from the fifth floor of Grand Indonesia mall, and landed on the railing of an escalator in front of Forever 21 clothing store. No further explanation was given.

I looked for details on online news portals, but found limited information. In what is now a natural reaction, I checked on Twitter but was even more perplexed by the bits of information being fed through the microblogging site.

It started with mismatching details over the person’s identity: A boy or a girl, a shopper or a waitress, the victim’s age and so on. The reason for the death was also a topic of dispute. Some wrote the victim fell accidentally while posing for photos, while others wrote it had been a suicide.

I soon learned from traditional news providers that the victim was a 24-year-old woman from Palembang, and she had committed suicide.

Even more disturbing, people posted real-time pictures of the victim on Twitter. The photos showed the deceased woman from different angles.

As if one alleged suicide wasn’t enough for one day, at around 9 p.m. I received a message from a friend that a 25-year-old man had jumped from the fifth floor of another mall, Senayan City, along with photos of the victim.

via Piece of Mind: Two Jakarta Mall Suicides Demonstrate The Dangers of Twitter Journalism – The Jakarta Globe.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Aulia Masna says:

    I’m just shocked at the utter defensiveness of this article showing contempt and dismissal of social networks as an irresponsible medium when I read it yesterday.

    Twitter may not well be journalism but it’s a damn good way to provide live, instant report and commentary of current events. At best it’s timely and on the scene, at worst, it brings speculation and uncertainty. Budi Putra once said Twitter has made CNN the History Channel. It takes CNN 30 minutes to one hour to report a “breaking news” while Twitter already has thousands of widespread reports, images and commentary and the news would be considered old by the time CNN shows anything on screen.

    All Armando has to do is look at the fire breakout in Colorado and California last year, the Delhi incident, and a host of other major events to realize Twitter is not all about spreading photos of dead bodies. Besides, if not for photos or videos, how else can you proof that it’s not a hoax?

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  2. Ashlee says:

    Professional journalists are bound by codes of ethics (well… should be…). Those reporting on Twitter are not. They are bound by their individual sense of morality. This will obviously vary a lot more than an industry standard code of ethics and is bound to get lost in the moment of an event, just like media outlets can go too far on a big exciting story sometimes too.

    I don’t think the article is dismissing social networks as being irresponsible full stop. I think it’s condemning some of the individuals that use them to disseminate information and the writer’s (it’s an opinion piece after all) belief that some social networking users did not behave well in this instance.

    When I work as a reporter, I am well aware of industry standards in regards to reporting suicide and also of research that suggests that graphic depictions and descriptions of methods of suicide can act as a trigger for people with depression. This was part of my j training. I would not forward those photographs that were going around publicly on Twitter. But at the same time, I understand why some people did.

    Not everyone on Twitter went to J school or has studied mental health or whatever. But we’ve seen lots of interesting things evolve from Twitter users… maybe a greater sense of responsibility about the information disseminated will evolve? I wouldn’t have had as big a problem if those photos were circulated with a warning about their graphic content and a link to one of the many sites out there providing health information for people suffering from depression etc (www.beyondblue.org.au is a good one). I think the second suicide was really a wakeup call about how this issue needs to be treated a bit carefully. We don’t know why the young man committed suicide at SenCy, but it’s always best to report responsibly, that includes on Twitter. Hopefully it’s something people will learn about more and discuss more as the platform evolves.

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