August 16, 2023
For a three-month period in early 2018, child influencer Lil Tay took over the internet. But after going on “Good Morning America” and the drama around who was managing her, Lil Tay’s Instagram went dark in 2018 until Aug. 9 when a statement was posted saying she and her older half-brother had died unexpectedly. “Major media outlets published, and then walked back, stories about the teenager’s [supposed] death. (Her exact age is unclear, as reports have varied over the years.) But longtime followers, knowing her online persona, were wary from the get-go,” Angela Yang reported for NBC News. Some of the outlets that published the news received confirmation from her “management” that it was true. But on Aug. 10, Lil Tay spoke to TMZ explaining that she was alive and her Instagram account had been hacked.
With the prevalence of social media and the need to be the first to publish, news outlets run the risk of spreading misinformation if they do not take the time to verify information. The SPJ Code of Ethics reminds journalists that “neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” In this case, Lil Tay’s father would not confirm her death, her mother was unreachable and police officials in Los Angeles and Vancouver, British Columbia, where Lil Tay had lived, said they had no records of her death. Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists also must be accountable and transparent. Even after Lil Tay confirmed she was alive, some outlets doubled down on conspiracy theories and others changed their stories to reflect the lack of confirmation surrounding the deaths. The Code states, journalists should “acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.” The spread of misinformation was “very traumatizing” for Lil Tay who “was bombarded with endless heartbreaking and tearful phone calls from loved ones.” To prevent situations like this, journalists must verify information before releasing it and use original sources whenever possible.