False Paterno death report demonstrates how quickly, far a mistake could spread with social media

By Lee Kamlet
Dean, School of Communications 

So many things went wrong on Saturday night.  The saddest part is that it all could have been avoided.

It began when Onward State, a student-run organization at Penn State, tweeted that former head football coach, Joe Paterno, had died.  The story, as we know now, was wrong.  But that didn’t stop major news organizations, including CBSSports.com, The Huffington Post and People.com, from picking up the erroneous tweet and repeating it.

As the Associated Press reports, the managing editor of Onward State tried to recall the tweet.  It defies credulity to think that he could actually stop it from going viral.  What’s worse, he seemed to believe that because his was a small news organization, no one would pick up on the report, even though it had to do with one of the biggest stories of the year.

“I never, in a million years, would have thought that Onward State might be cited by the national media,” he said in his letter resigning his position. “Today, I sincerely wish it never had been.”

It is sheer naiveté to think that anything that anyone posts on a social media website is not potential fodder for someone to pick up and repeat.  But the editor was not the only one to fall down on the job.

Please click here to read the full post on our School of Communications blog.

Categories: School of Communications

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