In an age where everyone wants to be the first to break news, social media can be a dangerous amplification tool. Whether it’s the media speculating about breaking events prior to the facts coming in or instances of bullying when classmates spread rumors via digital channels, we have a real problem.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. Neil Patel wrote an article for Entrepreneur back in 2014 explaining how the psychology of instant gratification would impact marketing and shape society. The rise of transparency and the demand for businesses and governments to share information with the general public has given us the impression that we’re entitled to know everything immediately. And it’s a problem that may get worse over time. This recent blog post discusses the dangers of perpetuating a culture that expects immediate feedback.
A real-life example of what can happen when social media and the rumor mill intersect played out on the global stage Wednesday night. Buckingham Palace called an 11th hour meeting for staff from across the county. Rumors began swarming on Twitter that “London Bridge is down” or perhaps it was her husband, Prince Phillip. The problem with the media speculation was that none of the reports were substantiated. Several Tweets maintained the French media was claiming that Prince Phillip had passed away, but none linked to any published stories. Buckingham Palace had refused to comment, though they did say there would be an announcement at 8:00 in the morning, local time. This gave the rumor mill plenty of time to start spinning.
When the story finally did break, it turned out that both the Queen and her husband are very much alive. Prince Phillip, at 95 years old, had decided to retire from making public appearances. Well done social media, you’ve once again helped make a mountain out of a molehill.
To the credit of the British Royal Family and media in the UK, there were no leaks of information prior to the official announcement. That’s more than can be said for some government agencies and most businesses these days.
A good rule of thumb is to avoid participating in any conversation online that doesn’t directly affect you. If you can’t contribute solid, new information that will be helpful, keep your thoughts to yourself and keep communication channels open for official announcements. If your company is about to launch a new product, appoint new leadership or divulge previously confidential information, wait until the official statements have been made before you start sharing the news publicly. There may be certain facts that shouldn’t be shared, or an approved image that you should be using, and if you’re in a rush to get the word out you may mistakenly share something that wasn’t meant to be common knowledge.