Should journalists confirm information before passing it along on Twitter?

On Thursday many journalists unknowingly perpetuated a hoax that CNN had suspended Piers Morgan due to the British tabloid phone-hacking scandal, sparking a conversation about whether journalists need to slow down before tweeting.

Others have chronicled the spread of the rumor, including TheNextWeb and Ross Neumann with a Storify.

But as people were issuing mea culpas to their followers, Reuters’ Felix Salmon wrote a provocative post on his Tumblr blog, suggesting that Twitter is more like a newsroom than a newspaper.

Rumors happen there [on Twitter], and then they get shot down — no harm no foul. … In the newsroom, we say things like “did you hear that Piers Morgan just got suspended?” and that’s fine. Is it really that bad to say that kind of thing in the newsroom called Twitter? I don’t think so.

Many people dismissed Salmon’s argument immediately, including commenters on my Romenesko post about it. But many journalists said they think it’s acceptable for journalists to pass along unverified information in some situations.

The reactions illustrate how journalists are dealing with the hybrid nature of Twitter — part conversation, part publishing. And it showed that it can be confusing to apply traditional journalistic methods to new platforms like Twitter.

As Julie Moos, director of Poynter.org, has said, “Speed kills, but slowness is a painful death of its own.” Twitter is one of the places where this dilemma is particularly evident.

Here’s how journalists are working through this issue.


Correction: This post originally misspelled Mai Hoang’s name.

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent post, Mr. Myers. Part of the difficulty that journalist now have is the compression of time between first awareness to compulsion to publish. No one wants to be 1 day later or so. Yet, accuracy should compel journalists to protect their integrity carefully, for that differentiates a typical blogger/social networker from a professional journalist.

  • LibelFreeZone

    Journalists confirm information?  Why bother?  Journalism’s gone to pot, anyway, having turned into a free-for-all of ubiquitous “media frenzy” that seeks only a new victim to fill its coffers.

    In this case, Louise Mensch misspoke.  Subsequent disclosures reveal that she was right about Morgan’s involvement in substandard journalism practices; wrong about the specific book in which he spoke of them. Now CNN’s working overtime to rehabilitate Morgan before our very eyes from slimy jeernalist to upstanding “entertainer.”  Stinks to high heaven, but that’s modern journalism for you.

  • Anonymous

    Right … er, I’m not really a member of the Fourth Estate, with all rights and responsibilities, I just pass along things I hear or see. Guess I”m an … enabler.  Manipulators love me.

  • http://www.poynter.org Poynter

    There have been a few cases that suggest tweets could be legally considered libelous (we’re going to research this a bit more, though). Here are some related stories: http://readn.gs/naqtuN and http://readn.gs/qFKGDJ. –Julie

  • Anonymous

    Take Twitter out of the equation for a second. What if the Poynter headline read just: “Should journalists confirm information before passing it along?” I hope the answer to that question is obvious. (If not, then maybe we’ve got bigger problems.) So how does Twitter change things, other than speed? (I know that’s a big issue, but I’m still in the “be first, be right, but be right first” school of thought.) I thought verification was part of the job. Heck, I even verify information when an uncle or cousin forwards an urban-myth email.
    Question: Would tweeting legally meet the “dissemination” test in a libel case? I’d guess it would, but does anyone know for sure?

  • http://twitter.com/coselman Monarch Sands Resort

    actually a no brainier…..http://www.monarchsands.com

  • Anonymous

    If journalists want to *stand out* as more professional, dependable and credible then they should resist the temptation to be first with news over the potential to be the most reliable. In a world where speed and misinformation is common, reliable is a distinction. Journalists need to realize the game has changed and that if they want to compete, then they need to compete on their strengths – eg. their ability to confirm and verify information rather than simply spread rumors and conjecture. There’s plenty of rumor on twitter, but not much you can count on in terms of verification. Become the source people “go to” for REAL news.

  • Anonymous

    Add “unverified” or “rumored that…” when info hasn’t been kissed by the source with the final word.

  • Anonymous

    Add “unverified” or “rumored that…” when facts haven’t been verified through the source with the final word.

  • Anonymous

    There is a very fine line between private thought and public expression is there not? I agree with Chuck Todd that it is nothing more than “infotainment”