Don’t Believe Everything You Read on Twitter

By  |  Friday, May 15, 2009 at 6:27 pm

twitterlogoSomeone caused a bit of a kerfuffle on Twitter today after he or she tweeted that California’s controversial Proposition 8 had been overturned by the State Supreme Court, crediting @LATimes. Slight problem–it wasn’t true.

The court has taken the constitutionality of the amendment under its consideration, so it wasn’t unreasonable to believe that the LA Times somehow gotten the scoop on its decision. That is what just one one careless person came to believe.

The culprit tweeter linked a story written dated May 16, 2008, when the court overturned a law barring same-sex marriage, because it violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

Any “followers” who clicked the link and examined the date on the story would have discovered that, but many chose to not take the extra step to verify what they read, and reflexively re-tweeted the “news.” Word inevitably made it way back to the LA Times’ own Twitter feed where its 19,700-plus followers began to see it– a perfect storm of misinformation.

There is a degree of trust built into the social mesh of Twitter, because people select who they want to follow. That trus does not substitute the fact that most people that blog about news on Twitter are not journalists, and do not have editors verifying their work. Twitter is place to find news, but it is not a news source.

Another root cause is the at-a-glance, all-the-world in 140 characters, aspect of it all. People consume information rapidly, and can react to something that they see on Twitter without thinking. Even friends make mistakes, and in this case, friends of friends propagated that mistake.

There are consequences when just anyone can post something online –consequences that could affect people’s lives, reputations, and even their livelihood. That is why print publications have editors, and television networks have guards placed outside of newsrooms. People’s emotions and legal rights were needlessly toyed with today.



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Jennifer Marshall @LadyJE Says:

    Most people who twitter likely do so with the understanding that it is like any social situation. What you hear in line while waiting to buy movie tickets, what you hear while sitting in waiting rooms or at the office watercooler, it all has to be taken with a grain of salt. It is like our mothers told us, “If so and so jumps off a cliff, it doesn’t mean you have to…” You are not an emotional hostage to every tweet you hear, mother may adapt the saying to fit the new technology…just because some one tweets that they jumped off a cliff doesn’t mean they did.

  2. venkat Says:

    We should believe tweets only when source to that news is also included in tweet.

  3. Pokey Says:

    People really need to take a step back and take Twitter for what it’s worth — a fun way to communicate with others, not a news-gathering system…despite all the hype about how useful tracking tweets were in following the swine flu “epidemic”. Stick to the Times or CNN for news.

  4. Dave Zatz Says:

    Pondering whether this is better or worse than the United stock selloff thanks in part to Google News and an outdated story:

    Editors and guards failed these legit channels.

  5. Pieter Jansegers Says:

    This is one of the reasons why it’s vital for politicians to be in charge of their real name Twitter: no-one has the time anymore to verify if a Twitter account is genuine ours, especially if it has your name and image besides it.

    Let alone the possibility of historians to trace back this information in this and ten or twenty years…

  6. DTNick Says:


    The rumor spread in part because there was a story link to go along with it. The problem was the story was a year old (rumor circulated on 5/15/09; story was dated 5/16/08). It was perhaps a combination of people neglecting to read the date and people reading the date, seeing "May 16," and assuming it was new.