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Danger of social media 'news': How a teen fooled the New York Times

Danger of social media 'news': How a teen fooled the New York Times
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

In the wake of the devastating tragedy in Charleston, the New York Times erroneously reported that alleged gunman Dylan Roof blogged about My Little Pony on the social media site Tumblr. How did it make the mistake? In the rush to publish news about Roof, the Times didn't properly vet its sources. This is just the latest story to highlight how social media "news" can trick even the most seasoned journalists into making mistakes.

The story by Pulitzer Prize winner Frances Robles quoted a British person named Benjamin Wareing who claimed Roof made racist comments in blog posts on Tumblr and also posted "images of 9/11 'memes' and of 'My Little Pony.'”

The thing is, Wareing made it all up. The 16-year-old Brit has never actually found Tumblr posts by Roof. The New York Times has since removed the errors from its story, but the original article can still be found on the archival site NewsDiffs.

“We removed those paragraphs as soon as we had reason to doubt them, and they would have been removed under any circumstances and replaced by newer reporting,” Times Deputy National Editor Peter Applebome told Fusion in an email statement. “We’re still reviewing the matter and will post an editor’s note to run with the story online.”

Next page: How did the New York Times make this mistake?
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