A good example of why Facebook isn't a good news source

Jeff Neal

The whole "fake news" thing is maddening for life-long journalists, whether you work for a major metro newspaper or a community paper like the CJ.

You will not find "fake news" here. We check and double-check facts. We don't run a story until we get it confirmed by several sources. We err on the side of caution because we do not want to distribute news that simply isn't true or is full of half-truths.

We'd like to be first in reporting the news to you, but quite frankly, we'd rather be accurate. If we make a mistake, it's an honest one -- and it's corrected promptly.

One of the incredible ironies about the whole "fake news" movement is that when you ask some of these folks who don't trust newspapers how they get their news, they will tell you they rely on social media for all the information they need.

Let me give you a perfect example of why that's a really, really bad idea.

On Thursday night, word began spreading like wildfire on Facebook that there had been a murder at the Beecher House here in Downtown Somerset.

One post elaborated, proclaiming the killer was still on the loose.

And, of course, people took these posts as gospel. They shared the posts. They commented under these posts about how horrible this crime was.

And on. And on. And on. It's on Facebook, so it must be true.

One problem -- no one was murdered at the Beecher House.

Yes, a poor soul did pass away. So someone might've actually seen a vehicle from the Pulaski County Coroner's Office at the scene.

According to Somerset Police Capt. Mike Correll, the person in question died of "natural causes."

Correll said there were some guys hanging around the building who were not supposed to be there at about the same time -- however their presence was unrelated to the death.

But when people saw a SPD unit and the coroner's office on the scene, at the same time, somehow 2 plus 2 equaled a grisly murder, with the perp on the lamb in our community.

I, personally, was sent varying posts relating to the incident from several different people. Fortunately, one of our reporters had heard the incident unfold on the scanner, followed it and knew the reports of a homicide were false. But even listening to the scanner can get you sketchy information -- it did in this case. You have to remember that dispatchers are conveying information as they receive it and much of it has yet to pass the scrutiny of a police investigation.

Look, we do follow social media. Social media is great for connecting with friends and keeping up with distant relatives. And, yes, we have picked up more than a few interesting stories from posts we've come across that actually are true.

But social media is not a good news source. It just isn't. There's way too much nonsense from partisan sites and there's way too much speculation from private citizens that's simply dead wrong.

That's why news media is so important. If you don't want a bunch of partisan crap, stay away from MSNBC, CNN and Fox. Those 24-hour talking heads market their political bias and give their viewers the spin they want to see. Much of their "reporting" is opinion-based.

Do we share opinions at the CJ? We sure do -- right here on the page you are currently reading. Opinions will be located on the Opinion Page. And nowhere else.

If you do look to Facebook for news, make sure the sites you follow are actual news outlets. We have a Facebook page, as do our sisters newspapers in London, Corbin, Richmond and other Kentucky communities. Lexington television stations have Facebook pages.

But other "news" sites just provide partisan views. Google these sites before you put your trust in them.

And, of course, our local law enforcement agencies also are on social media. Those are always trusted sites.

If you want to know what's happening in this community, I can assure you the Commonwealth Journal staff will do its best to provide you accurate news -- news that you need to know as quickly as we can get it to you.

And for our loyal readers who have trusted us for years, we say thank you. We'll try to never let you down.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

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