At the end of every major fast-breaking news events, media junkies gather — almost like clockwork — to rip apart news organizations that were too fast in firing off the “post” button on Twitter. It’s almost as if, event after event, we’re constantly surprised that with the speed of Twitter come inaccuracies.
Craig Silverman, a freelance journo based in Montreal, runs a fascinating (and almost sad) blog on inaccuracies in media called Regret The Error. In a recent review of the coverage of the shooting of U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the question of correcting tweets came up.
Should a news organization delete a tweet that was inaccurate?
Boston’s WBUR was apparently first on Twitter to report that Giffords had been killed — and they got the story wrong. The Congresswoman was shot, but she wasn’t killed.
Instead of deleting the erroneous tweet, WBUR decided instead to issue a correction. In its defense, WBUR said:
We have decided NOT to delete the erroneous tweet, because it serves as part of the narrative of this story. Facts can change fast when news is breaking, and that leads to errors. We need to own the error, not hide from it. But we also need to rectify the error and explain ourselves to people who trust us. Deleting the tweet would do more to harm trust than preserving it would do to harm truth.
Well, the goal to preserve reporting as the “first draft of history” is an honorable one. It works well in print — but fails miserably in online tools like Twitter. It’s simple: leaving an erroneous tweet out there runs the risk of someone else re-tweeting it. That’s irresponsible. The goal is accuracy, not the burial of errors. So instead, what WBUR should have done was:
1. Delete the inaccurate tweet;
2. Post a new tweet explaining the correction and set the record straight
Ultimately, for Twitter to continue serving journalists, it needs to create a way for users to issue corrections while maintaining a sequence of events. That way, as far as news coverage goes, you’ll only be able to see and re-tweet the most recent update.
Isn’t that a better way to draft history?