Chat replay: How should journalists handle incorrect tweets?

In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting last weekend, journalists have been talking about the difficulties they faced when deciding how, and whether, to correct erroneous reports on Twitter.

We continued the conversation during a live chat with Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan, Scott Rosenberg and Lost Remote’s Steve Safran, who talked about the various options that journalists have when dealing with incorrect tweets.

Safran helped start the conversation in a post about how incorrect reports of Giffords’ death spread on Twitter. The piece explained that Retuers, CNN and the BBC had tweeted that Giffords died, raising questions about whether news organizations should delete incorrect tweets or instead leave them as is and write a corrected follow-up tweet.

NPR’s Andy Carvin, who handles NPR’s tweets, said that instead of deleting the tweet he wrote about Giffords being dead, he posted another tweet saying, “Update: there are conflicting reports about whether she was killed.” Carvin didn’t retract the original tweet, he said, because he wanted to be transparent about NPR’s mistake.

This is a similar approach to what Rosenberg suggested earlier this week in a related blog post. “It’s almost always better to correct than to unpublish,” he wrote. “Removing information you’ve already disseminated — sometimes called ‘scrubbing’ — always leaves open the possibility that you’re trying to hide the error or pretend it never happened.”

Several readers responded to the argument, including Sullivan, who argued that errors will spread more if incorrect tweets aren’t deleted.

In response to the issue, Kathryn Schulz, author of “Being Wrong,” suggested that maybe Twitter could play a role in helping journalists deal with this issue.

“The fact is that everyone who’s involved in spreading news also needs to be involved in correcting it — and, right now, in helping to figure out how best to do so. That includes the people at Twitter,” she said. “Why not have a ‘correct’ function (like the ‘reply’ and ‘retweet’ functions) that would automatically send a correction to everyone who had retweeted something that contained an error?” (I reached out to Twitter to see if the company had ever considered or would consider adding a “correct” function but was declined an interview.)

You can revisit this page at any time to replay the chat.

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  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    News orgs have been dealing with the unpublishing dilemma for years. More recently, it’s been interesting to hear people’s thoughts on how it applies to Twitter. I agree that an “untweet” function would be helpful. We’re going to discuss the possibility of creating a “correct” function during a Poynter.org live chat with Adrian Holovaty on Tuesday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m. Hope you can join us.

    ~Mallary

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  • http://twitter.com/JackieKazil Jacqueline Kazil

    Corrections to stories online:
    I think the same conversation needs to be had about the stories online. In print, a story that runs on A1 will get a correction on A1. Online a front page story with a correction will appear at the top of the story with no mention on the homepage. If the correction is made hours after the publication the story could have fallen off of the homepage, and no one will recognize the correction. Not even google, because they don’t re-index pages for 6 to 9 months.

    Corrections on Tweets:
    As far as the Twitter corrections go, Twitter needs a “mistake” or “take-back” flag that is carried over in retweets. So, all retweets get flagged also. That way individuals or companies can stay transparent, but still flag the tweet as incorrect and offer a corrected version. Without the flag, if you don’t scrub it, individuals can take the error as truth. If you scrub it, then you end up looking like you are covering it up. Tweets are saved in databases all over the place. Look at search.twitter.com for exmaple – your tweet won’t disappear from there.

  • http://twitter.com/JackieKazil Jacqueline Kazil

    I think the same conversation needs to be had about the stories online. In print, a story that runs on A1 will get a correction on A1. Online a front page story with a correction will appear at the top of the story with no mention on the homepage. If the correction is made hours after the publication the story could have fallen off of the homepage, and no one will recognize the correction. Not even google, because they don’t re-index pages for 6 to 9 months.

    As far as the Twitter corrections go, Twitter needs a “mistake” or “take-back” flag that is carried over in retweets. So, all retweets get flagged also. That way individuals or companies can stay transparent, but still flag the tweet as incorrect and offer a corrected version. Without the flag, if you don’t scrub it, individuals can take the error as truth. If you scrub it, then you end up looking like you are covering it up. Tweets are saved in databases all over the place. Look at search.twitter.com for exmaple – your tweet won’t disappear from there.

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  • http://twitter.com/mcgroarty McGroarty

    Always unpublish.

    Leaving posts intact is bad for two reasons. First, if others retweet the bad post, they may not retweet the correction. By unpublishing, the (new style) retweeted posts are unpublished as well. Second, many people don’t read every tweet in a feed. Some skim, and some use apps such as Flipboard that only present a selection of updates. Unpublishing guarantees removal of uncached tweets.

    It sounds as though what you really need is an “Untweet” convention, similar to “Retweet.” Unpublish, and then:

    UT: Dewey defeats Truman

    Follow that up with whatever clarification or explanation is needed.