Twitter’s Ultimate Downfall

The panel of speakers featured Wednesday at The Washington Center; Adam Shank is 2nd from the right. Photo by Jade Sells

The panel of speakers featured Wednesday at The Washington Center; Adam Shank is 2nd from the right. Photo by Jade Sells

By Kylie Jacobsen

With over 232 million users (including myself, a self-proclaimed Twitter addict), Twitter has become an extremely popular social media website worldwide. Twitter is undoubtedly one of the best social media websites for finding information quickly, as tweets – or posts to the website by users – are limited to 140 characters (which makes them concise), and the use of hashtags allows for tweets about a certain topic to be found with relative ease. and I tweet almost every day. Because of social media websites, information spreads faster now more than ever. Not all information found on Twitter is accurate, however, and the spread of misinformation could lead to catastrophic results.

Today, we heard from a variety of speakers, which included social media experts and reporters. They all had expertise in different fields, and it was quite interesting to listen to each person’s point of view on newer forms of media. First, we had a panel that featured Adam Sharp, who is the Head of News, Government & Elections on Twitter. Even though he is obviously a huge supporter of Twitter, he provided insight into some of Twitter’s pitfalls, with the main one being the spread of incorrect information.

One example that Sharp provided was the Gabby Giffords shooting. The news of the shooting first broke on Twitter, where false reports indicated that Congresswoman Gabby Giffords of Arizona’s 8th District was killed. According to Sharp, the news spread like wildfire, and within fifteen minutes, all major news outlets and television shows were reporting that Giffords was dead.

Gabby Giffords was a Congresswoman from Arizona District 8 who was shot in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

Gabby Giffords was a Congresswoman from Arizona District 8 who was shot in 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

After a local news reporter visited the hospital and found that Giffords was not killed, but was seriously injured, media outlets began to correct their false reports of her death. But the damage was already done – NPR, CNN, and other news outlets were extremely embarrassed (for good reason) that they released incorrect information in the first place.

Later in the afternoon, we talked to Todd Ruger, who covers legal issues for Congressional Quarterly. He stated that he and many other journalists use Twitter as a source for breaking news, and also acknowledged that the usage of incorrect information on Twitter for stories before fact-checking is a problem.

Ruger discussed the false reports of the Supreme Court’s ruling of the Affordable Care Act in 2012. According to Ruger, Twitter was the ultimate source of false information regarding the issue, as reporters tweeted that the ACA was struck down by the Supreme Court. Fox News and CNN are a few media outlets that shared this false information. Although it was fixed rather quickly, the reputation of the news sources was clearly at stake and as a result, they took a hit.

Unfortunately, it does not seem that this is a rare phenomenon. During Hurricane Sandy, a Twitter account was the source of false photos and information, which spread at a very face pace. Recently, the Huffington Post posted an article about a witness testimony from a fatal shooting in a St. Louis suburb, which was later proven false.

You may be wondering, do the corrections of these errors become as viral as the error itself? Researc

Graph showing the Twitter traffic of incorrect information vs. corrected information. Photo courtesy of SocialFlow.

Graph showing the Twitter traffic of incorrect information vs. corrected information. Photo courtesy of SocialFlow.

h has shown that this is not the case. Corrected information only has around half the Twitter traffic that the initial incorrect information did, and the first source of information typically gets more retweets than subsequent corrections.

Is this Twitter’s fault? Of course not. Earlier today, Sharp claimed that Twitter cannot correct people’s false information, it just serves as a pipeline. It’s not Twitter’s responsibility to correct the false information in tweets, and there will always be error in some information because that’s just human nature. We all make mistakes, and human observations can be incorrect at times.

Although Twitter  has numerous benefits for reporters, such as immediate access to breaking news and the ability to distribute stories, it does have its drawbacks. The spread of false information on Twitter is a huge issue for reporters, as reputations and careers are on the line. Even though there are a lot of stories that have been corrected due to false reports on Twitter, there are also a number of stories that have been accurate while using Twitter as a source, according to Sharp. False information is just one consequence that has to be dealt with when using Twitter as a resource.

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