Twitter's Self-Balancing Act Proves its Value
"In the midst of a story like this, twitter is both the best and the worst place to turn. Please RT with caution & context." That was a tweet yesterday afternoon from Andrew Golis, senior editor and director of digital at Frontline, and good advice it was, if sometimes difficult to follow.
In the heat of a breaking news event, we are all tempted to pass on information without knowing for sure its provenance or accuracy. Golis himself did this, retweeting (and later correcting) the news that five additional bombs were found in Boston. The source of this information was not just some random tweeter, however—it was the Wall Street Journal. A good reminder that traditional journalism, too, is prone to error and retraction amid a developing story.
There was also the statement made by Boston police commissioner Ed Davis connecting the fire (initially reported as an explosion) at the JFK library to the bombings at Copley Square. This information, which came from a conventional, credible news source, was later said to be incorrect (we're still waiting for the final word on this one). Again, Twitter, the newfangled information portal, is prone to taking the blame for news flashes that would have been broadcast (and retracted) in any era.
As a portal for breaking news, Twitter is not responsible for or even structurally prone to creating and maintaining distortion. For every rapid-fire spread of inaccuracy, there is the rapid-fire spread of clarification or correction. I agree with Paid Content's Matthew Ingram, who wrote last night that the process of news dissemination and correction on Twitter, while messy, is worthwhile because, in nearly all cases, the truth will out.
Ingram says some have called for Twitter to verify or prioritize information in the name of accuracy. This is not only impractical, it's antithetical to the very process of verification and correction we seek. Surely, reports from the WSJ and statements made by a police commissioner would have passed muster no matter what verification algorithm was in place. The need for correction would still be there, and with social media gatekeeping, this process would simply take longer. I vote we keep Twitter the way it is.