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Social media lynch mobs, and the downside of a supercharged news cycle

by AirTalk®

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Ruslan Tsarni, uncle of the suspected Boston Marathon bombing suspects, spoke to a sea of reporters in front of his home April 19, 2013 in Montgomery Village, Maryland. Allison Shelley/Getty Images

The manhunt for Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a big week for social media but unfortunately much of the information being passed around was wrong.

Redditors listening in on police scanners quickly broadcast the names of innocent people as suspects. They even fingered an innocent missing Brown University student as a suspect. Much of Twitter confused Chechnya with the Czech Republic.

But even the mainstream media fell down on the job. CNN and AP incorrectly reported that a suspect had been arrested. The New York Post published a front page photo of the wrong suspect.

If breaking news can't be trusted to be accurate, should we even bother with it? When news is breaking quickly, is it better to be behind the mainstream conversation or in the stream and risk being wrong? What are the limits of crowdsourcing information via Reddit and Twitter? Aside from entertainment value or curiosity, does following breaking news step by step add any value to our lives?

Alexis Madrigal, senior editor for The Atlantic magazine

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