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Can Twitter help the media's misinformation problem?

April 18, 2013|By Alexandra Le Tellier
  • People inside the Prudential Center watch news reports after Monday's Boston Marathon bombing.
People inside the Prudential Center watch news reports after Monday's… (Kelvin Ma / Bloomberg )

The Boston Marathon bombing on Monday provoked some lamentable knee-jerk reactions and unverified claims that were spread far and wide by the media -- in traditional news outlets and social media alike. (I’d link to some of the worst offenders, but I fear that would only perpetuate the problem.)

We saw similar forms of chaos unravel around the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings and the Tucson rampage -- the latter when the tea party was senselessly blamed for the attack before we even knew what had really happened.

For Times columnist Meghan Daum, the misinformation around the Boston Marathon explosions “almost induce[s] a longing for the days of the 6 p.m. news. We had to wait for information, but at least it was reasonably reliable and delivered in complete sentences.”

In her Thursday column, she continues:

A good deal of the story of the Boston bombing has been as much about how we're telling it as what we know. We've proved the perils of micro-reporting -- tiny, unverified bursts of information -- as an alternative to synthesized, more comprehensive articles. The wave of innuendo has been generated not just by amateurs but by professionals, who are now expected to deliver the play-by-play while they're still figuring out what happened. And like it or not, we're told, this is the direction things are going.

Not necessarily. On Monday, the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple praised a handful of journalists who tweeted with caution and asked others to do the same. “The platform that’s most effective at churning out breaking news has become a place that preaches caution in breaking-news scenarios,” he wrote. You can see a roundup of Wemple’s selected tweets on his blog.

Daum’s right that micro-reporting has changed the way we distribute and consume news. But it’s also possible that Twitter, which has been seen as a big part of the problem, will eventually become part of the solution. If, over time, more users send the type of tweets that Wemple has highlighted, Twitter may transform into the Internet’s much-needed real-time reminder to everyone about spreading information cautiously.

Continue reading Daum’s column for what our Twitter feeds reveal about us.


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Follow Alexandra Le Tellier on Twitter @alexletellier

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