Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner was pronounced dead on June 11, 2011. Within minutes, thousands of alarmed fans shared the news of the sudden passing of an international icon. Comments and condolences filled our Twitter timelines as we eagerly passed along news of this unexpected development to our friends and followers.
“RIPHughHefner” even became a trending topic, with over half of the Twitter population concurrently discussing the death. No one was more surprised at this news than Hefner himself, who responded to the rumor by tweeting, “I’m happy to see how many people are pleased that I’m not dead. I’m pleased too.”
You may be asking yourself how such a deadly rumor could travel so fast. How could a totally fabricated “news” story be so easily consumed, believed and recycled? The answer is simple: Twitter.
Originally termed “microblogging,” Twitter allows its users to post and read statements, limited to 140 characters, known as “tweets.” It has been useful for communicating short notice adjustments to schedules, informing us when the season premiere of Housewives of Hollywood is airing or announcing Justin Bieber’s latest arrest.
Some educators have even started using Twitter as a way to update students on class changes. The service’s convenience makes it an invaluable asset to our daily lives. However, incidents like the one involving Hugh Hefner are not uncommon and point to a societal trend that is rapidly evolving into a societal concern.
As newspapers go out of business and journalists struggle to find work, many critics point to today’s generation as the culprit. The deliberate unwillingness to pick up a newspaper or turn on the 6 o’clock news is exactly why more convenient sources such as Twitter emerged as new leaders in timely information. Tweets take a second to write and a second to read, drastically cutting the time it takes to consume larger messages. Twitter news is credible when it comes from some of the trusted news networks like CNN, ESPN, the Associated Press, NPR and others. However, news from credible sources can be so easily changed and adjusted that one can’t help but wonder where the line between the truth and a lie is.
I do not agree with critics that blame today’s generation for being increasingly picky about what they spend their time reading. In fact, being particular about what one chooses to read and believe may be the remedy for issues like the Hugh Hefner incident.
Twitter is proven to be a useful news source in many ways, but one must learn how to filter what information they believe and, most importantly, repeat. It’s important to be a responsible consumer of news. Students seldom present arguments in an essay unless they have indisputable facts and references to back them up; the same attitude should be taken towards spreading Twitter news.
As society becomes progressively sophisticated due to the increasing availability of news, so must our sophistication in filtering what information is newsworthy and what requires further investigation before passing it on. This is basically the modern rendition of “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”
Instead of eliminating Twitter from our lives altogether or using it as our sole news source, we should incorporate it into a plethora of news sources to help alleviate the stress of trying to distinguish the real from the fabricated. Many news sources, like CNN, have created smartphone apps that deliver news straight to the device’s home page.
If we learn to increase the credibility of the news we pass along, we will undoubtedly increase the credibility of ourselves.