Sensationalism is seen every day. You may not know it, but it’s there. Turn on CNN and you’ll see “BREAKING NEWS” flash across the screen with a headline that’s already been discussed for the last three days.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more clear example of sensationalism than I did last Sunday. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a Cleveland man went on Facebook live and murdered a man. The video went viral, and social media exploded. In the video, the man claimed to have killed 15 people. Cleveland Police held a press conference later that night and disputed those claims, saying they had no reason to believe there were other victims.

But for some reason, social media clung to that notion. I saw numerous tweets going viral, claiming this man had already killed 15 people. Most of the accounts were spam accounts, aimed at getting as many retweets as possible to get noticed. And boy, did tweeting “this man killed 15 people” really resonate with users. The highest number I saw was 11,000 people + retweeting a post.

I am not going to even try to downplay the situation, because it was tragic in every way. My issues lies with people reporting incorrect facts and not even bothering to check if they are true. In this case, people are causing a panic.

Moving past social media, I saw credited journalists using “claims to have killed 15 people” in their headline in some way. That is the definition of sensationalism. Steve Stephens claiming to have killed 15 people was an unfounded claim. But journalists ran with it.

I can see how an incident like this may not seem like a huge deal to some. But as a PR major and future professional, I have been taught to tell the truth and state the facts.

People reporting incorrect and unfounded facts is un-ethical and can create a panic. But this is the world we live in. Social media is instant and certain journalists need to sensationalize their headlines to get clicks. It still does not make it right. Before sharing a story or fact, make sure all the facts are straight. Nothing is worse than creating sensationalism.


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