BBC Mumbai Twitter Debacle
BBC learned the hard way that Twitter is not always reliable. I doubt they thought so from the start, but the fact that they screwed up their Mumbai terror reporting running rumors floating on Twitter not only looks bad for the publisher, it also hurts the credibility of user generated content online. Steve Herrmann writes extensively on this on The Editors blog.
Thing is eye witness reports are always hard, and when something like a terrorist attack happens, people talk to each other, broadcasts their message to the world in unedited form. Add rumors and false perceptions to that, and you have the tangle that is the web today. It is a great source of information for journalists. If they do their research, they can probably limit the amount of mistakes made by the not so accurate reports out there. Problem is, just like you and me, they want their story to hit the web and the papers ASAP, so there’s not always time for the amount of research they’d like to do.
It’s a fine line to tread for the journalist, and the publisher. What they need to do when social websites like Twitter, Facebook and whatnot, as well as with traditional blogs, is make sure they let the readers know the source and keep their distance to it. Just like with traditional research, you’ll have to keep an open and critical mind to everything you’re told and you learn along the route. Is there an agenda? Does the person giving the information benefit from this or that? Is this a PR hoax?
Twitter and social media will be an important source for hunting down stories for journalists for years to come. One BBC debacle won’t change that.
Thord Daniel Hedengren is a designer, writer, and blogger, and also the former editor of The Blog Herald. He used to be a hotshot in the gaming industry in Sweden, but sold everything and went International. Most recently he wrote a book called Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, and does loads of kickass design.
I wrote about this issue on Performancing :) but I listened to Leo Laporte and Amber Macarther debate back and forth and I have to agree with them on one thing. Even though it looks as though listening to all the news on Twitter and other outlets besides mainstream media was a bad thing, what is the difference between a CNN news channel broadcasting or publishing the same information? I agree with Amber is that, just because the CNN logo was slapped on doesn’t necessarily mean everything has been vetted and that it is true. I think the possibility of the information has a higher chance of being vetted but I don’t think that by purely relying on the CNN’s of the world is a smart thing to do. Better to keep an open mind and various perspectives.
I’m quite surprised by this because I was under the impression that BBC journalists usually have to have a story confirmed by two separate news wires rather than trusting just one alone. So to take Twitter without a second source would presumably to go against BBC policy.