Giffords’ shooting shows process of journalism on Twitter

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.


  • Good post. This tragedy has shown the need to develop a new kind of media literacy — what we at Nozzl Real-Time Technologies think of as real-time literacy. Context is being created and destroyed on the fly. “Facts,” in essence, become what everyone votes up or retweets. “Rumors” are anything about which a consensus does not yet exist. It’s a far cry from traditional news, in which facts are hardened into stories at the moment of broadcast or press run.

    We’ve put up an unusual, but comprehensive, tool for following the Tucson shootings: side-by-side real-time streams. One stream shows traditional news reports. The other shows tweets, blog posts and alternative media. Both “realities” are visible at the same time, and you can use one to judge the other.

    The link is here:

  • Bryan Murley says:

    How many of these media sites were actually reporting on the ground and not just releasing info they got from another media outlet via Twitter or whatever? It’s basically a game of telephone 2.0.

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