What is Twitter doing to ensure that the information we read and share is accurate?
This is the crux of a New York Times article posted on October 31st, 2012. It could well be one of the most important reads about Twitter (and, social media) in a long, long time. The article titled, On Twitter, Sifting Through Falsehoods in Critical Times, looks at many of the false tweets and information that were being floated around on Twitter during Hurricane Sandy. This information caused more than a little confusion in the state of New York and New Jersey, and many people were eager to retweet all of this mis-information. The New York Times took Twitter to task:
"While people are learning to accept information posted to the social Web with a large grain of salt, they may not be able to distinguish between useful updates and fake ones during a crisis or disaster, which can become dangerous. Bad information might set off an irrational decision that could lead to panic, or worse, put them in harm's way. A search is on for promising technological solutions, but for the time being, it is up to users to police the service."
This is not Twitter.
One could argue that Twitter is the publisher and responsible for all content that flows through the channels. One could also argue that Twitter is just a publishing platform and fact-checking each and every tweet is an act of impossibility. In fact, watching information flow on Twitter makes me suspicious of the notion that even a new technology can solve this problem. The article concedes a point that I believe - and that Twitter hopes for - a self-correcting community. That, much in the same way, the members of the Twitter community initiated the concepts of the retweet and hashtag, that they could be equally effective is rooting out the wrong on Twitter and letting everyone know about it. I have faith in humanity, but my faith may not be that strong.
140 characters the fast way.
I've seen some funky Twitter antics first-hand. For instance: I'll post a long blog post, link to it via Twitter and see a ton of tweets retweeting me only a few seconds later. There is no chance that any of these people had the time to click my link, read my blog post and then create a tweet about it. And yet, it happens all of the time. How many fake celebrity deaths do we need to have before we realize that people are quick and easy when it comes to retweeting anything controversial?
Get media savvy.
Don't rely on Twitter, Facebook or blogs to tell you the truth. Do your own work. On January 30th, 2011, I published a blog post titled, Get More Media Savvy. We need not only the publishers of content online, but the readers and sharers of this content to get much more media savvy. No, this doesn't require anyone to get a degree in media studies. It just means that in a world where anyone can have an idea and share that thought in text , images, audio and video, we can't rely on the platform that allows us to publish to become our fact-checkers. We're all going to have to do the long, hard work of better understanding what it means for everyone to be a media source and a media creator. We're consumers, creators and curators all at once, in a real-time environment where 140 characters are as easy to send as hitting an "enter" key.
It's up to you.
Twitter and no other social media channel is going to get this right. The only thing that is going to get this right is you and I. So, if you're media smart and your neighbor isn't, the best move isn't to blame Twitter, but to help out your neighbor (and their kids). We teach reading, writing and arithmetic in school. We need to get media in there as fast as possible. I'm not talking about workshop or a field trip, but raising the priority to the level of reading and writing. Why? Because where does the majority of reading and writing happen in this day and age? It's happening online... in the palms of our hands and on our screens. So, when we're all publishers... we all must all become more aware of what it means to be a media property.
Don't blame Twitter.