Yesterday, in the rush to be first, what appeared to be a legitimate breaking news story from a reliable source spread like wildfire in the Twitter-verse, only to have it turn out to be completely false. I happened to be one of the people who saw Jon Snow of London’s Channel 4 inaccurate tweet, ““Piers Morgan suspended by CNN over phone hacking…the rise and rise, and fall and rise, and fall of Piers Morgan!”
On my personal Twitter account, instead of RTing Jon’s tweet, I posted the news as quickly as I could, seeing that it came from an established media person at a legitimate news organization. This was the biggest mistake I made. In 99 out of a hundred cases, I expect Jon to report the news accurately. But this was one of the times a real news person was duped. While it shouldn’t happen, it does from time to time, especially when one is rushing to report “breaking” news.
There’s a lot of differing opinions on what Twitter should and should not be. My colleague Felix Salmon writes:
… one of the great things about Twitter is its immediacy, the way in which people are talking to each other without carefully thinking first about whether or not everything they’re saying holds up to the standards of some grand and noble news organization. That’s something valuable, and it would be a shame if a small group of self-appointed media-ethics priests tried to crack down on it.
While Felix enjoys the “immediacy” of Twitter, he is right to be skeptical about what he see’s on it. We all should be. For better or for worse, many people have come to rely on me to get their news over Twitter. While I would prefer to be faster and looser, I certainly do not want to be reporting — or retweeting — false news. It doesn’t mean I’ll avoid reporting breaking news. Instead, I’ll be much more careful and take the extra steps to verify it.