The horrific events in Manchester that occurred yesterday has brought to mind the importance of critical literacy in an age where news is communicated as it happens via social media outlets such as Twitter.
I was at home reading when I noticed that someone had re-tweeted a video, claiming that there had been an ‘incident’ at a concert in Manchester. It was literally only a few minutes after what we now know to be a suicide attack had happened. It was 10.30pm over there, about mid-morning here in Australia, and videos that people had taken on their phones as the event occurred were on my screen almost as soon as they were taken. Before the news film crews arrived, before the journalists had time to swoop, we were witnessing this terrible attack. Manchester started trending, and I continued to return to Twitter throughout the day, as the horrible story unfolded.
As the hours passed, I noticed a few people retweeting that a hospital near the scene was in lockdown, and that a second person was making threats with a gun. ‘What is going on?’ were my initial thoughts. Was this actually the case, or in the confusion had someone had misinterpreted an event? Sadly, it seems that this was a troll, stirring up trouble. Fortunately an official tweet soon clarified that the hospital was fine, and there was no second gunman.
Sadly this was not the only fake story that was being circulated. Stories of unaccompanied children being cared for at a nearby Holiday Inn as well as photos of missing individuals (some of whom were not even at the concert) started circulating. In trying to assist, people who retweeted these misleading and incorrect posts may have exacerbated the confusion and misinformation.
I use Twitter everyday. I am researching how others use Twitter (and other social media and online tools) for professional learning in the course of their employment. I also see its tremendous power in how we access information and news stories directly from those nearest the source. However, like everything, its power can be (and is) misused terribly. This is why it is so very important that when we seek information from social media, we do so in an informed and critical way. This post from @onthemedia provides a useful checklist to remind us that we must not unconditionally believe everything we read/view on social media:
— On the Media (@onthemedia) May 23, 2017
The image says ‘cut out and keep near your computer screen’…and I think this is useful advice. If not this image, then one like it should be in view for every student and teacher in every classroom and library, to remind us that we need to have our critical thinking caps on whenever we encounter information. In the minutes and hours after a terrible event like the Manchester attack, it can be easy to let our emotions and desire to help overwhelm us, and retweeting information can seem like a very small way to make a difference. Sometimes it can – but always be sure that the information is verified, and that it has come from a trustworthy source.
With great power comes great responsibility.