Forecasting snowstorms and how to avoid them

A few years ago being “snowed on” might have made someone think of being trapped in a blizzard in a cabin far up north. But these days being “snowed on” has taken a much more negative connotation, especially for media reporters. Today many reporters are being snowed on online, as the tensions in the political climate  of America have reached an all-time high and trust in the media at an all-time low.

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Screen shot of President Trump’s Twitter.

Much of this distrust in the media has been due to claims of fake news made by both sides of the political spectrum during the 2016 Presidential election. Unfortunately, this fake news has developed into a distrust for the media in general, just look at this headline from the far right news site Breitbart  had about a reporter that was fired for a controversial tweet: “CNN’s Fake News Gets Trump-Hating Politico Reporter Fired.” In the headline alone the site disparages CNN by referring to it as “fake news,” and refers to the reporter’s action as “Trump-Hating.”

Politics aside reporters these days have a hard time just trying to do their job without being bombarded by hundreds of fellow tweeters and Facebookers proclaiming their stories to be fake news or being biased. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that some of the most reliable of news sources like the Slate and the Washington Post have created special Chrome extensions readers can install to their computers to help them spot false or fake information. While the Slate’s tool helps readers spot fake news on their newsfeed on Facebook, the Washington Post’s extension goes as far as fact checking President Trump’s tweets.

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Photo: Washington Post

But despite these handy tools that discredit false information, reporters can still get snowed on online in two senses. The first way a reporter can get snowed in is if they inappropriately tweet or post something politically controversial online, something that former Politico reporter Julia Loffe learned the hard way. Loffe was fired although she had been recently hired to the Atlantic and was leaving Politico anyways, however she received a lot of flack for her tweet which was vulgar in its language and context. Though that’s an extreme example, reporters may easily be attacked online for stating information that’s factual if it doesn’t match with other people’s view points. I don’t believe there is a way to avoid or overcome this other than to continue to report the truth. But the second problem that reporters face online is when people beat them to the “news.”

I’m not referring to news in the literal sense of actual events that are happening and reporters are writing about, I mean news that essentially becomes news based on false claims and accusations made by everyday citizens. Just read this New York Time’s article which follows the step by step spread of one man’s tweet about so called “paid protestors” steaming into Austin.

“Mr. Tucker’s post was shared at least 16,000 times on Twitter and more than 350,000 times on Facebook. The problem is that Mr. Tucker got it wrong. There were no such buses packed with paid protesters.” — New York Times

Eric Tucker took a picture of a series of buses coming into Austin and claimed that they were full of “fake protestors” because he had heard there were various protests occurring due to the election results. As it would turn out, the buses had absolutely nothing to do with protests of any sort, but by the time the press reported this, it was already too late. Tucker’s tweet had already been shared thousands of times, and denials of his claim were shared significantly less so. Reporters were snowed online by a tweet from a man who had no credentials that would make him a credible source of information to cite.

Even when asked about what prompted him to create his tweet with little information, Tucker said despite knowing he might not necessarily be giving accurate information, he thought it would be fine considering he had a small Twitter following.

“I’m also a very busy businessman and I don’t have time to fact-check everything that I put out there, especially when I don’t think it’s going out there for wide consumption.” — Tucker to the Times

Despite evaluating all the ways a reporter can be snowed online, there is really little members of the media can do to prevent it or predict it. How can reporters predict when cases like Eric Tucker present themselves online? They can’t, nor can they do anything than report the truth of the matter, or find out why motives prompted an individual to share something online. The only way a reporter or member of the media may combat being attacked online is to continue to reporting factual information and presenting that information when others dispute what they’ve reported. Though they may be bombard by people that disagree with their work, these are mostly opinions.

Opinions are disputable, facts are not.

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