The spread of incorrect reports about the shooting of US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Twitter has once again raised questions about the rapid spread of false information on Twitter.
Lost Remote has a good round-up of how reputable news organisations such as Reuters, NPR and the BBC wrongly tweeted that the congresswoman had died.
The challenge of ensuring accuracy when covering breaking news online is nothing new. We faced the same questions when I was the daily news editor at the BBC News website in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
This was, of course, before Twitter. Since then, if anything, the pace of breaking news has got faster.
Twitter provides a platform for streams of information but it is a noisy media system.
Dan Gillmor has argued for a slow news approach – taking “a deep breath, slow down and dig deeper as a normal part of our media use.”
It seems unlikely that the new rapid-fire news cycle will slow down. There are two factors that journalists and audiences have to contend with today: immediacy and distribution
Information travels in near real-time on platforms such as Twitter and a message grow exponentially as others along the network rebroadcast it to their friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
This environment provides little room for considered fact-checking. What is taking place is a shift in how this fact-checking takes place.
Journalism can be a messy process. This process used to take place behind close doors in newsrooms, as reporters and editors considered conflicting reports, weighed up incoming information and made decisions on what to publish.
Today, the process of journalism is taking place in public on media platforms such as Twitter. Information is published, disseminated, checked, confirmed or denied in public through a pro-am collaboration facilitated by social networks.
The process of journalism in this media system turns on its head the traditional approach of filter, then publish.
Instead breaking news becomes a process of publish, then filter.
The journalistic functions of verification and authentication take place in public, done by both professional journalists and citizens.