Posted by: mobrienweiss | April 24, 2013

An edit/correction button for Twitter? Sounds like a great idea!

If you were reading through your Twitter stream on Tuesday afternoon, you might’ve seen this horrifyingly alarming tweet from the Associated Press, a trusted name in American journalism: “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.”

If I hadn’t been in the middle of teaching a class, there’s a good chance I would’ve re-tweeted that post, in spite of all the awful media miscues during last week’s Boston Marathon bombing reporting. (They’ve arrested someone. No they haven’t. They’re on their way to federal court. No they aren’t. Twelve are dead. Nope, it’s three. Both suspects are dead. No, one is dead. The boat suspect two is hiding in is on fire. Nope, wrong again.)

This tweet about explosions at the White House was from the Associated Press. I generally trust the AP. They wouldn’t mess around with a story of this magnitude, right? The problem? The AP Twitter feed had been hacked. The tweet was a lie.

AP soon tried to do some damage control. “The @AP twitter account has been hacked,” AP editors said in a statement. “The tweet about an attack at the White House is false. We will advise more as soon as possible.”

stock marketOne tweet. One hack. And all hell broke loose as people all across the globe re-tweeted that ill-fated, phony tweet.

“The Dow Jones industrial average plummeted more than 150 points when the news broke on Twitter — an indicator of traders’ presence on the social media platform — before immediately recouping the losses after it became clear that there had been no incident at the White House,” the New York Times’ The Caucus blog reported.

Take a look at the graphic from the Washington Post. Although the market quickly recovered from the erroneous report, that’s a jarring image of the kind of damage that can be inflicted upon our financial system in the time it takes to type out a 140-character lie.

Ironically, hours before AP’s Twitter account was hacked, Wired Magazine’s Mat Honan published the piece, “The One Function Twitter Desperately Needs.” The function? An edit key or, a way to append corrections to tweets in everyone’s Twitter feed.

“Twitter could add a function, similar to a re-tweet or favorite, that lets you edit and correct a tweet after it has been posted,” Honan suggested. “Those tweets then show up in a timeline as having been corrected–again, they could be flagged like favorites or re-tweets. Click on a tweet marked as edited, and it uses Twitter’s Cards function (the same system that lets tweets embed images, videos and text) to show the original.”

The issue is a particularly poignant one for Honan as he is still lamenting the fact that he tweeted out misinformation during the hunt for the Boston Marathon bombing suspects and named someone as a suspect, only he wasn’t a suspect, and his name was immediately propelled across the internet and linked to a terrorist attack. When Honan realized his error, he also realized that there was no way to send his mea culpa not just to those who follow him on Twitter, but to all of those followers’ followers and so on and so on.

“Last week, Twitter was a breaking news machine,” Honan wrote. “It’s done this before, of course, but this time given its growing size, the sensational nature of the crimes [the Boston Marathon bombings and murder of an MIT police officer], and the fast-moving situation, it was on an entirely larger scale. But now that the dust has settled, we should come to grips with what happened. It’s a scale we need to get used to: This is the way it’s going to be from now on. The future of news dissemination is the crowd, or maybe even the mob.”

His pro-tweet correction argument makes complete sense, particularly if Twitter wants to remain a viable source of news consumption and information distribution:

“We all need to be more careful on Twitter in regards to what is true and what is not,” he said. “We should all be more skeptical … But Twitter can help this process become cleaner, more efficient, more reliable. While it’s true that Twitter is good at correcting errors via viciously effective crowdsourcing, it needs a better way to self-correct, to take it back, to fight the rumors of our own creation.”

A Twitter correction/edit button … yay or nay?

Image credit: Washington Post.

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