ON March 9, The Times published a profile piece on Labour MP Jess Phillips. The interview, titled, “Jess Phillips: ‘I think I’d be a good prime minister’” proved popular on social media – even drawing support from across party lines. Nick Boles, the Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford tweeted in praise. He shared the piece alongside the following: “There is something about @jessphillips that I find irresistible. I would walk over hot coals for her.

“And yes she would be a great Prime Minister.”

It wasn’t long before the tweet drew ire from those who viewed his comments as the oily overtures of a sleazy uncle. One journalist referred to them as things that belong in a dodgy WhatsApp group chat.

In one sense it’s true – when you’re a woman with a public profile, this is precisely the sort of thing that gums up inboxes. Naturally, it wasn’t long before Nick Boles was in the headlines as creep du jour. The story was immediately picked up by the Independent, the Evening Standard and other reputable media outlets who initially failed to mention one pertinent fact: he’s gay.

What was written as an innocuous tweet support of a colleague was taken in bad faith, and the response tweet quickly grew into a smear against a gay man. It’s a damning indictment of the current media landscape that not one, but several publications failed to do their basic background research before choosing to run the story.

What we see here is a perfect illustration of how misinformation and untruths are quickly spread by people with no real intention of causing this kind of harm. This is how easy it is to game the news.

The story is a symptom of the 24-hour news cycle. Editors are under pressure to fill every hour with a new story. So much pressure, it seems, that shallow, reactive stories like this can make it through several pairs of hands. Journalism is and should be better than this. If reporters don’t have time to research a story – at even the most basic level – then we have a serious problem. A problem that runs contra to the very purpose of journalism: serving the citizen with truth and accuracy. It should never be the case that multiple outlets are under so much pressure that they fail to do their necessary due diligence before publishing.

This is just one fake story about one well-known man. When you see how quickly a smear can spread, it’s not difficult to imagine the consequences for people without the sort of power and profile a politician has. The results could be so much worse than they were in this instance. Given the febrile atmosphere in the UK right now, it seems entirely plausible that someone could see a tweet from a verified account validated by reputable publication and then act regrettably.

We need time for slow journalism. We need to find the time for angles and ideas to take shape, and for those ideas to be adequately interrogated before we commit them to paper or screen. We must take every conceivable care not to mislead the public with a knee-jerk reaction and unhelpful framing.

It really is not good enough to have a publish-first, apologise-later model. This sort of story is where we find ourselves when accuracy plays second fiddle to being the first to get the word out. This contributes enormously to the lousy information problem that has given us the fake news epidemic. As journalists, we need to be the first line of defence, not those who are causing the problem and polluting the news with our carelessness.

In this line of work, using Twitter for personal and professional reasons bleed into one another. Sometimes it feels like it’s just a bit of fun, but clearly, as we see here, it’s not. When you have a public profile, you have the power to influence discourse, and impact people’s lives. We cannot be this lazy. We must temper the urge to react before doing our basic research and asking questions before we hit send.

When we share our hot takes with the world, we need to be mindful that they have the potential to shape the news. We have an ethical imperative to get the stuff right, so we must approach our social media activities the same integrity as we would any other journalistic endeavour. If the facts are not robust enough to get past the sub-editor, then you probably shouldn’t tweet them. That is the responsibility we have given our platform.

Our digital world is already so fast and it shows no sign of hitting the brakes anytime soon. Now, more than ever, there is undoubtedly an argument for reviving our craft with a renewed passion for depth in our reporting.

Conflict has become the frame of choice for telling most stories and is amplified by the way we interact with one another online as well as the sorts of highly polarised stories which travel through our information environments. It contributes towards the tendency to be hyper-vigilant police of conversation, rather than objective seekers of truth. As journalists, whether operating at the tweet or the publishing level, we need to take the time to find other frames to tell our stories.

Everyone wants things instantly, but surely slowing down just enough to get things right is a sacrifice we can make. If we don’t find the confidence to take our foot off the gas in our reporting, discourse and democracy will suffer. I’m more than ready to slow down a little.