Rush for Ebola information leads to false reports

False Vindicator tweet

Hanna Moore

Several false news reports surfaced Wednesday regarding Amber Vinson, a Kent State graduate and Ebola patient who visited relatives in Tallmadge over the weekend. 

Tallmadge Mayor David Kline said at an Akron press conference about Vinson’s trip to Northeast Ohio that it is important to get accurate information out. 

“When that wrong information gets out, our phones blow up about wrong information,” Kline said. “We ask the media and everyone to respect the family. We’re trying to protect them and the neighbors and really, all Summit County.”

Rumors circulating about Vinson said she visited the Kent campus when she was with her family this weekend. 

The Plain Dealer tweeted a link to the story when it was first reported from @Clevelanddotcom that said Vinson visited Kent State but later updated it with the correct information. 

Another false story reported by The Vindicator, a daily newspaper in Youngstown, stated three people were quarantined after the outbreak. In reality, three of Vinson’s family members who are Kent State employees were asked to stay off of the Kent campus for 21 days and self-examine themselves but were not officially quarantined. 

The error was due to a miscommunication between university spokesman Bob Burford and The Vindicator reporter, said Eric Mansfield, director of Communications and Marketing.

The struggle between reporting information fast and accurately has emerged with the growth of the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle. 

Jan Leach, associate professor for the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said she saw The Vindicator story that said people were being quarantined because of Ebola. 

“With the increased nature of the Internet and computers to have information when something is breaking, there is always the capacity to have error,” Leach said. “If you don’t wait to verify information or to hear back from sources, there is a potential for harm, to cause unnecessary fear and panic, to invade privacy and to be wrong with information.”

Leach, who teaches undergraduate and graduate level media ethics courses and is director of Kent’s Media Law Center for Ethics and Access, said transparency is an important ethical consideration. 

“The Internet is self-correcting,” Leach said. “It is good and wise to say that the information from a previously reported story has been updated.”

Contact Hanna Moore at [email protected]. Senior editor Katherine Schaeffer and diversity reporter Teahl Rice contributed to reporting.