The ascent of Twitter has been wonderful for the democratization and quickening of news and information. A few decades ago, it might take days for a person in California to see pictures of a disaster that took place in New York. Today, all a person needs is a smartphone and an internet connection and, with Twitter, they can be their own photojournalist, updating the site's millions of global users with up-to-the-minute images of events like Hurricane Sandy.
Unfortunately, all that speed also allows for the instantaneous distribution of misinformation, as well, and from some of the biggest and most trusted names in media. This morning's hurricane handwringing was been a great example of that. The above photo is a bullshit Photoshop job tweeted out by everyone from the New York Times' Jodi Kantor to the New Yorker's David Grann to Buzzfeed's Andrew Kaczynski. NPR was one of the more reputable news organizations to send out this picture, which depicts soldiers standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier despite being pounded by heavy winds and rain. That picture is real, but it was taken in September, not today. And then there's this photo of the Manhattan skyline tweeted early this morning by someone calling himself "Jamster" and instantly retweeted by thousands of people. Once again, that appears to be a real picture with origins at the Wall Street Journal, according to Buzzfeed, but it's from a long time ago, not today.
If you think you've come across an "amazing" or "terrifying" picture of Hurricane Sandy today and tomorrow, take a few seconds to do a reverse image search or ask yourself, "Hmmm, does this picture of a shark swimming down a flooded New York street look utterly fake?" If you're in New York, maybe peer out your window. Can you see no rain falling, but the sun, low in the sky, obfuscated behind a dark cloud amassing over the Statue of Liberty? If that's not what you can see out your window, maybe that's a fake picture.
The sometimes negative impact the so-called "Twitter effect" has had on news has been written and talked about ad nauseum, so let's not again discuss how and why it became a thing for otherwise reputable journalists to disseminate to thousands of people obvious lies. Let's just remind ourselves that, as more and more Americans turn to social media for reliable information about matters of national import, it's everyone on Twitter's job to try and make sure people worried about friends or family members in New York don't believe there's a swirling hellstorm hovering over the Statue of Liberty when actually none exists—at least not yet.