Correcting the error on Twitter: how NPR's mistake about Arizona shooting quickly spread

Thoughtless tweeting can’t be blamed for this error: it appears to have started with a mainstream news organisation. Representative Gabrielle Giffords did not die as initially reported by NPR News and others and is in hospital following Saturday’s shooting in Arizona, which left six dead and many injured.

As documented by Craig Silverman on Regret the Error, a number of media outlets, including Reuters and the BBC, re-tweeted the false report that the congresswoman had been killed.  NPR has since published an explanation of the error here.

It raises the question of correcting the error effectively and quickly in the digital age, a point discussed in some of the pieces linked by Silverman here. Steve Safran on Lost Remote discusses how Twitter exacerbated the error, even following NPR’s correction update:

For hours after it was reported she was alive, people kept discovering the original tweet that she was dead, retweeting it to their friends without seeing the update. In several cases, the retweet of the incorrect report came three or more hours after the report first spread (…)

So, Safran asks:

So we ask: is deleting a tweet after the fact a lack of transparency, especially if any subsequent tweets don’t admit the error? Is a news organization obliged to tweet that it was wrong? Does the retweet function make such actions moot? We strongly believe in transparency, as do many of you. But whether deleting tweets is a responsibility or not, and whether a news organization must tweet that it was wrong, should lead to serious discussions in all newsrooms.

On Twitter, the discussion continues. Dan Biddle (@article_dan) suggests that a “disable RT-ability action wld b great”. Sue Llewellyn (@suellewellyn) is worried that “incorrect tweets often get RT’d hours later” and suggests that “perhaps @twitter can create a correction button?”

As news organisations increasingly use Twitter to break news, the correction issue is something they’re going to have to consider extremely carefully. Please leave thoughts and comments below.

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5 Responses to Correcting the error on Twitter: how NPR's mistake about Arizona shooting quickly spread

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Correcting the error on Twitter: how NPR’s mistake about Arizona shooting quickly spread | media law & ethics -- Topsy.com

  2. Pingback: Monday media law mop up: Clegg on libel, NOTW suspension & Twitter debates | media law & ethics

  3. Laura Oliver says:

    Really interesting to read the comments from NPR’s Andy Carvin and Alex Gubbay from BBC News’ social media team to find out more about the decisions made in tweeting the news – also for the views on deleting vs keeping inaccurate news tweets as part of the record of the event.

  4. Philip John says:

    The ‘correction’ idea is a nice one though I can’t see it ever happening. Imagine the fun phishers and spammers would have changing links…

    IMO deleting that original tweet would have been perfectly justified, so long as another tweet correcting the falsity was sent out. That’d get rid of all the Twitter RTs and then any ‘old style’ RTs would not be traceable to the original, leaving them questionable.

    Perhaps news organisations should have a tool on standby that allows them to mass reply to everyone who RTs something, just in case. Open to abuse though, of course.

  5. JTownend says:

    I agree it would be a difficult one to implement. Even with the new RT system designed to stop editing of tweets, people still get round it (me included) in order to add an extra comment.

    The discussion has continued since I wrote this post. See:
    http://www.regrettheerror.com/2011/01/17/what-would-a-twitter-correction-function-look-like/

    http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/digital-strategies/114595/live-chat-how-should-journalists-handle-incorrect-tweets/

    & Quora: http://www.quora.com/How-might-a-Twitter-correction-tool-work

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