It’s no secret that I am a big Twitter fan. Twitter is almost always the first place I turn to for my daily news and it’s also the first place I go when I have news of my own to share. In between Twitter is simply entertainment, a place filled with 1,002 voices (at the time of writing) all adding their own particular tidbits, analysis, links and, inevitably, humorous videos.
As much as I love Twitter there is one thing its critics have right: nothing spreads faster than a juicy rumour on Twitter.
It’s not unique to Twitter (the internet in general is pretty good at this) but Twitter is particularly efficient at the task. Established media often argues that this is a key failing of social media in general, and Twitter in particular. I suspect the problem is that they are looking at this from the wrong angle. This is not a problem that makes Twitter useless. It is a huge opportunity for news organisations.
Journalists have always played a key role in providing readers with credible information. Our industry is built on interrogating information and verifying facts. So why not play that role on Twitter, instead of dismissing Twitter as a rumour mill?
I’ve argued before that news organisations ought to employ social media editors, and I’ve also argued that journalists ought to play a role in verifying facts on social networks and pointing out the ones that are false. Why not take this a step further and actively warn Twitter users of false information?
It’s pretty simple. It could be done as part of a news organisation’s primary Twitter account but it would probably be better to run it as a dedicated account. The news organisation sets up a dedicated account (@newspaper_facts for example) and uses that to post updates on rumours doing the Twitter rounds. The account could also interact with readers that believe they have seen something that may not be true. Having a dedicated account for this purpose would make it easy for readers to follow and use to check for updates.
Either way the objective is to (re)establish the news organisation as the go-to source for verification, the place they turn to in times of doubt. That in itself would be powerful branding and marketing for any news organisation.
This is not an entirely new concept but it is still in its infancy. Perhaps the best example of something like this in action is NPR’s Andy Carvin who is making something of a name for himself for debunking Twitter rumours. Similarly, during the recent US hurricane, there were many pictures being circulated purporting to be of the destruction. Reuters’ social media editor Anthony de Rosa was among the journalists warning Twitter users of false information. For more examples of this see Poynter’s excellent article on social media editors fighting misinformation.
It may not be unique but it is an opportunity for news organisations to further enhance their role as custodians of verified facts.