Gene Park: Covering a Tragedy in the Social Media Age

Gene Park/Civil Beat

We live in an era where a tweet from Hawaii's senior senator in Congress could preempt any "official" announcement.

I'm talking about the sudden, tragic death of Loretta Fuddy, director of the state Department of Health, killed in a flight returning from Molokai.

Throughout Wednesday night, there was no official word of her death. Yet various news outlets had confirmed it through sources, and tweeted it out.

That prompted U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz to issue a statement: "Loretta Fuddy was one of the finest, most capable, and caring public servants I have ever known. This is a sad day for Hawaii."

The quote was basically taken as an official announcement from the social media savvy senator, and made the rounds of news outlets. Since then, it's been quoted several times in local media, including Civil Beat.

We operate in an era where Gov. Neil Abercrombie can announce his ultimately successful campaign for governor on Twitter, and where his former lieutenant governor can openly mourn the loss of a longtime, beloved public servant in the same 140-character medium.

It's also an age where social media presents great opportunities — and great risks — for the spread of information.

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