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Spreading Panic in a Pandemic
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School supplies and face mask on a desk

How should a reporter handle a widely-shared erroneous tweet?


Here's the situation:

Hope McHenry covers government and politics for the evening news program NIGHTFALL NEWS on WLSA. McHenry is a well-respected local reporter with a large following on social media. She knows that frequent tweets are the best, and quickest, way to keep her audience regularly updated on the pandemic sweeping through the country, especially when the next NIGHTFALL NEWS broadcast is still hours away.

McHenry had just finished a long day covering the fallout from the governor’s announcement that schools and all non-essential businesses would be closed for a month due to a recent spike in cases. Before heading to bed, she saw a comment from a PTA president stating that the principal of a local high school had tested positive for the COVID-19 virus after showing symptoms for a week. She quickly tweeted the information and planned to reach out to the school district for comment in the morning.

When McHenry woke the next morning, she saw that her Twitter account had received hundreds of comments from panicked parents and students, some of whom had recently interacted with the principal. McHenry’s tweet also had been shared hundreds of times. To her dismay, she realized after contacting the school district that the information about the high school principal was incorrect. The PTA president had apparently based his comment on rumor and speculation.


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