When you get something wrong in a news story, how do you make it right? Newsroom policies–if they even exist–usually cover the timing and placement of corrections in legacy media and online, but social media are rarely mentioned. That’s a big oversight, considering that errors on social media replicate like rabbits.
Imagine you’ve tweeted something that turns out to be wrong. At a minimum, you should tweet a correction and add a correction to any links included in the original tweet. But is that enough? Probably not.
What’s great about social media–its speed and interconnections–can become a huge liability when mistakes happen. You may have corrected an erroneous tweet, but everyone who retweeted it hasn’t. So the error keeps getting passed along even after you’ve taken it back.
It’s not a new problem, of course. The classic quote, “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on,” dates back to the 1850s. But technology helps the lies spread faster.
The mistaken reports that Rep. Gabby Giffords had died in a 2011 shooting in Arizona provide a classic example of what can go wrong. Lots of news organizations reported the congresswoman’s death. Many of them deleted their original tweets after posting corrected information. But that didn’t stop the erroneous reports from circulating; if even one person had retweeted the bad information there was no getting it back. Some news organizations, including Reuters, took the trouble to reply to Twitter users who had passed along their first Giffords tweets–a laudable but laborious effort to set the record straight.
This spring, the Boston Marathon bombings provided another case study in how bad information gets around. Weeks later, in a bit of coincidental timing, a new tool came online that aims to make it easier to share corrections.
The only clear downside is that it doesn’t reach everyone. Retwact will only notify your followers. It originally also told 100 of the people who’d retweeted your link, but Twitter shut down that part of its functionality.
Bummer. But it’s a step in the right direction.
Oops image via Shutterstock