Back in 1960 four African-American college students sat down at a lunch counter in a "whites-only" cafe. This event gave rise to nationwide sit-ins and protests as part of the Civil Rights Movement. Imagine if those four students had had social networks. They would have been able to advise fellow college students while they sat in that cafe, and crowds would have gathered immediately, instead of the following day after verbal communication. Social media capitalizes on real-time communication, which has the potential to attract great support and momentum.
With real-time communication tools comes real-time problems, and users should be cautious, especially in emergency situations when troublemakers can easily prey on people's emotions. For example, tweets said to be made by participants on the ground during the uprising in Iran were speculated to be mostly fake and spread propaganda. Pictures may be manipulated or used under false pretenses to gain sympathy from the public. In addition, social media can be used to publicize fake charities that attract unsuspecting donors.
The public should proceed with caution when using social media. Do research before providing financial support through any online medium. Use more than one social media source to gather information on any situation. And remember that social media should not replace traditional media, but it is a good supporter. When in doubt, especially in emergency situations, contact the local authorities to validate information. Do not forward information to your own social network unless you have done research to prove it is valid so you are not helping to spread misinformation.
- Small Change (The New Yorker)