Today's question: How should Twitter be used by media during breaking news?

Thursday, November 12, 2009 | 9:49 a.m. CST; updated 10:50 a.m. CST, Thursday, November 12, 2009

COLUMBIA — During what was at first reported to be a hostage situation Tuesday in Jefferson City, news organizations and private citizens utilized Twitter to share information of the situation.

According to a Missourian article, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday, there were 310 tweets tagged as #JCMOhostage, the most common indicator used on Twitter to talk about the situation, which turned out to not include a hostage.

At some points, Twitter was the main online option to update the public about the situation; a few local news sites went down, perhaps because of such high traffic, including

But other times, it served as a fast-paced frenzy of misinformation. There were tweets saying shots had been fired (they had not), that the situation was in the governor's office (it was in the Governor Office Building) and that it was a confirmed "hostage situation" (though it was never confirmed).

Regardless, Twitter provided a thread of conversation about what was going on, and there wasn't much confirmed information to use. But that meant a lot of information coming through Twitter was speculation or hearsay.

How can the media properly use Twitter in situations of breaking news and when there isn't much confirmed information? Where can a balance be struck between quick delivery and accurate information?

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jane whitesides November 12, 2009 | 1:34 p.m.

Well, obviously if you are the Lieutenant Governor, you should not tweet unsubstantiated twitters! Lieutenant Governor Kinder seemed to think it was "important that he notify the world." Verification did not matter apparently, but as a public official, I believe Mr. Kinder should have been more prudent.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock November 12, 2009 | 4:27 p.m.

So if the LT Governor would not have tweeted and the situation would have been real and a life was lost are you saying that he did the right thing by waiting? I doubt it. You would have blogged about him needing to be on the safe side and it was all his fault.

(Report Comment)
jane whitesides November 12, 2009 | 5:19 p.m.

Actually, Allan, I don't rely on the Lieutenant Governor for news. There were reporters working very hard to confirm information and report in a timely fashion.
Jane Whitesides

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock November 12, 2009 | 7:40 p.m.

You dodged my statement. You commented about him tweeting misinformation. I commented that you probably would have thrown a fit if he didn't tweet and somebody got hurt. That is an assumption on my part. Considering you are a liberal I would say that is a pretty good guess. Oh you haven’t answered my last comment on an earlier story about posting who you represent.

(Report Comment)
jane whitesides November 13, 2009 | 4:13 p.m.

Allan, you didn't read my answer. I do not rely on the Lt. Governor for news, and I really fail to see how his tweeting could save anyone from danger. Let's just agree to disagree on that. When I am posting as an individual, I do not believe it is necessary to identify my employer. When I am using ProVote information or speaking for them, I do.
Jane Whitesides

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock November 13, 2009 | 5:14 p.m.

Well it would be pretty hard to distinguish when you are posting as a liberal working for liberals or just as a liberal.

Tweets do not have to be news. They can be alerts. Schools and other agencies are using them now as a form of instant communication in case of emergency.

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