The Responsibility Of Twitter

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What is Twitter doing to ensure that the information we read and share is accurate?

This is the crux of a New York Times article posted on October 31st, 2012. It could well be one of the most important reads about Twitter (and, social media) in a long, long time. The article titled, On Twitter, Sifting Through Falsehoods in Critical Times, looks at many of the false tweets and information that were being floated around on Twitter during Hurricane Sandy. This information caused more than a little confusion in the state of New York and New Jersey, and many people were eager to retweet all of this mis-information. The New York Times took Twitter to task:

"While people are learning to accept information posted to the social Web with a large grain of salt, they may not be able to distinguish between useful updates and fake ones during a crisis or disaster, which can become dangerous. Bad information might set off an irrational decision that could lead to panic, or worse, put them in harm’s way. A search is on for promising technological solutions, but for the time being, it is up to users to police the service."

This is not Twitter.

One could argue that Twitter is the publisher and responsible for all content that flows through the channels. One could also argue that Twitter is just a publishing platform and fact-checking each and every tweet is an act of impossibility. In fact, watching information flow on Twitter makes me suspicious of the notion that even a new technology can solve this problem. The article concedes a point that I believe – and that Twitter hopes for – a self-correcting community. That, much in the same way, the members of the Twitter community initiated the concepts of the retweet and hashtag, that they could be equally effective is rooting out the wrong on Twitter and letting everyone know about it. I have faith in humanity, but my faith may not be that strong.

140 characters the fast way.

I’ve seen some funky Twitter antics first-hand. For instance: I’ll post a long blog post, link to it via Twitter and see a ton of tweets retweeting me only a few seconds later. There is no chance that any of these people had the time to click my link, read my blog post and then create a tweet about it. And yet, it happens all of the time. How many fake celebrity deaths do we need to have before we realize that people are quick and easy when it comes to retweeting anything controversial?

Get media savvy.

Don’t rely on Twitter, Facebook or blogs to tell you the truth. Do your own work. On January 30th, 2011, I published a blog post titled, Get More Media Savvy. We need not only the publishers of content online, but the readers and sharers of this content to get much more media savvy. No, this doesn’t require anyone to get a degree in media studies. It just means that in a world where anyone can have an idea and share that thought in text , images, audio and video, we can’t rely on the platform that allows us to publish to become our fact-checkers. We’re all going to have to do the long, hard work of better understanding what it means for everyone to be a media source and a media creator. We’re consumers, creators and curators all at once, in a real-time environment where 140 characters are as easy to send as hitting an "enter" key.  

It’s up to you.

Twitter and no other social media channel is going to get this right. The only thing that is going to get this right is you and I. So, if you’re media smart and your neighbor isn’t, the best move isn’t to blame Twitter, but to help out your neighbor (and their kids). We teach reading, writing and arithmetic in school. We need to get media in there as fast as possible. I’m not talking about workshop or a field trip, but raising the priority to the level of reading and writing. Why? Because where does the majority of reading and writing happen in this day and age? It’s happening online… in the palms of our hands and on our screens. So, when we’re all publishers… we all must all become more aware of what it means to be a media property.

Don’t blame Twitter.


  1. Exactly, Mitch. The responsibility is on the user to properly vette information and consider the sources. Unfortunately, in an era where media has so lowered the bar of expectation, people will believe anything.
    Twitter has a very vast audience that is smart and will self correct, the issue becomes the virality with which the misinformation is first spread. We can ask that people be more responsible with their clicks and do their own due diligence and homework and follow only trusted sources for information, but we both know that will never happen.

  2. If someone wants to fact-check Twitter, I suggest they start with FoxNews and CNN first. They deliver more news to more people and have been far more effective at distributing false information and rumor as news. See: Iraqi Uranium, Supreme Court ruling on “Obamacare,” “Arab-looking” terrorists in Oklahoma City, or the myth that Romney is neck and neck with Obama.

  3. Yawn….. you mean when a *cough* new *cough* technology comes out it takes time for people to figure out how to use and relate to it? You mean we are experiencing the collateral damage of disruption?
    I guess I’m just kind of frustrated.. as someone who’s been into social for, what, 8 years or so… seeing the new kids walking around.. calling them selves experts.. and saying shit that like.. was conversation some of us were having like 6 or more years ago…
    Feel like Ronald Reagan at some head of state meeting with the Soviets.. starting to snore in the middle of the meeting…
    I know.. I have a bad attitude but..
    There’s “The network” and then there’s the network of folks I have networked with or have plugged into, right? And I trust MY network.. that I’ve plugged into.. and connected to.. more then I trust any media source.. and my network will tell me stuff years before the rest of the world’s ever heard of it…
    And I watch people with great interest.. to see the kind of digital behaviors we see as people start to learn this…
    Like I swear to God.. last night.. I got pulled into going to this karokee dive bar.. that was a little… questionable.. and I saw something that perhaps no one should ever see.. which was like.. some kinda.. Britney Speakers Sex-a-liscious song.. with a whole bunch of middle to late middle aged women.. doing some kind of country line dance to it… that was in some way sorta… creepishly wholesome… while.. there friends.. had iPhones and were video recording the whole thing… and you know that was probably going to Facebook.
    I was just horrified and slightly… wanted to celebrate… Just to see a women in there 50s and 60s… behaving this way with smart phones.. and facebook… and a total disregard for reputation management or.. I mean I can’t think of what could be more horrifying then a video my self doing such a thing.. not be cause it was particularly dirty.. but for the fear people might think I had such horrid taste!!!
    And that’s such a different scene from the fishbowl we grew up in.. social-digitally speaking. And when you start thinking about really the broadest of demographics.. lets say kinda psycho-behavioral graphics.. and then put them into a digital context.. and see what sorta madness ensues…
    People will be incredibly miss informed.. as they always have been. I mean you ever sit around in college smoking pot with your peers while they tell you all that is wrong with the world.. and they can not yet tie there shoes? There’s great value to those bull sessions to be sure..
    But I guess the thing to be cognizant of is how stuff spreads.. when you understand that we, the people, are the medium… I don’t think the problem is one of technology.. I think it’s like our collective psychology… which is leaving a kind of cage built by industrialization… and entering a new digital ecosystem space.. and.. I guess we just have some new devils to meet?

  4. I completely agree with your premise. However, in a world where many of us access Twitter on our mobile devices, we are limited in our ability to fact-check because of the technology. For example, I clicked through a link to see one of the fake pictures of Sandy. I felt like it must be fake, however, I had no way of checking, through my Blackberry or iPad, where that picture was originally sourced. Why? Because the apps don’t let me navigate outside their parameters. Ever tried going to on your iPad? You’re redirected to the mobile site, or worse, the mobile app. It’s even worse on Blackberry, where navigation is horrible in general. And apps blocking you from accessing information about a Twitter friend because they have a private profile (yes, I realize this is an API issue) don’t help either. I had no way of knowing whether that Sandy picture was posted by my locked-profile-friend (unlikely), whether she saw it elsewhere and then posted it to Twitter, whether she modified a tweet and added it to her profile that way. All I could see was that a picture was now in her Twitter stream.
    In other words, though the limitations don’t remove our responsibility to fact-check, I can understand why I (and others) might get caught anyway. There’s definitely room for improvement and innovation on this matter.

  5. Companies have to be aware of the news when using social media sites such as twitter. They need to find the right balance when posting a tweet because one inappropriate or incorrect tweet can spread very easily. All it takes is for a few retweets for the message to be seen by thousands, which can have potentially devastating consequences for the PR of a firm. The same can be applied to individual users of twitter, who also need to check facts before tweeting incorrect information.

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