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Viral news from social media quick to jump to mainstream outlets

Social media networks have become a major source of stories for the mainstream media in Thailand. Most of the viral talk of Bangkok eventually ends up being published or broadcast in some form on a variety of platforms including websites, television, radio and newspapers. Indeed, social media doesn't just follow news trends, more commonly it sets them.

For example, the recent story about actress Janie Thienphosuvan and her now ex-husband Chonsawat "Ae" Asavahame was premiered on social media and it eventually became front-page news in many newspapers.

It is not uncommon for hot topics to be picked up and given prominence by mainstream media. Unfortunately, in most cases, these viral reports are not verified by due journalistic process. It is all too common for reporters to just copy from social media and paste into their stories without applying their professional skills and checking the facts.

Mana Treelayapewat, a journalism lecturer at University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said that the Thai media is now actively and openly using social media for stories, but that journalists sometimes fail in their duty to report with accuracy.

"It is no secret that Thai media now often picks hot topics from social media without thoroughly scrutinising, verifying, checking, and balancing the information before publishing," said Mana. "They often just 'copy and paste' the content directly from social media. This is not news reporting as we should understand it."

Moreover, he said this reporting -publishing or broadcasting viral stories from social media without adding value or checking facts - was of little benefit to society and not very useful information for news audiences.

It also created a blurred perception between rumour and news, as well as hearsay and fact. By reneging on their responsibility to be a reliable source of information, mainstream outlets risked becoming the tool of marketers and celebrities who clearly intend for certain stories to go viral.

"The role of mainstream media is to verify facts before publishing or broadcasting it as news. If they pick up viral stories from social media and immediately publish and broadcast them without verifying them, it should not be taken seriously as news, although the appearance of such stories in the mainstream media gives them an unwarranted legitimacy," Mana said.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Kom Chad Luek was acclaimed for a story it ran on the GT200 bomb detector scandal, which was originally sourced from social media. The paper used proper journalistic processes to develop the story, which led to it winning the 'Best News Award' from the Isra Amantakul Foundation and the Thai Journalists Association.

Due journalistic process is always required when mainstream media outlets utilise social media as a source of stories. Mana urged reporters and news organisations to stay true to the professional standards of their field rather than focusing on driving traffic and ratings.

Many recent examples of social media driving news appear to fall short of what one might expect from journalists. For example, a news story that was concocted using a private chat message from a group of celebrities using the popular platform LINE didn't seem to match up with any notion of solid journalistic standards or ethics.

Social media is here to stay and it is only going to grow further, as a source of news stories also. Therefore, it is incumbent on journalists employed by organisations that the public trusts that they will use the resource professionally and wisely.


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