What does the media do when it discovers it has tweeted an error? That’s the question journalist Craig Silverman answered in Columbia Journal Review’s To Delete or Not to Delete?, and he found that it depends on the news organization.
When it was erroneously reported that Rep. Gabriella Giffords died in the recent Arizona shooting, some organizations, such as NPR, chose to leave an existing incorrect tweet online, arguing that once posted, people had already seen it and the organization didn’t want to be accused of “trying to cover our tracks on Twitter,” but instead decided to “be transparent about the mistake.” Others, such as PBS NewsHour, chose to delete a tweet to avoid incorrect information from being retweeted and thereby spreading the false information. Silverman’s own view is that “I’m not in favor of news orgs deleting incorrect tweets. Take time to push out correct info & contact RTers to alert to new info.”
While scrubbing (i.e. changing an error in an online story without including an official correction) is frowned upon in journalism, an important question is whether the same rules should apply to regular people.
One individual suggested that “maybe Twitter should just create a redact function that crosses out the tweet in stream and auto notifies RTers by email” – an intriguing idea. Barring the existence of that option, however, perhaps the answer of what individuals should do must be decided on a personal and case-by-case basis.
Possible things to consider include: (1) What is the information posted – does the tweet contain information that could potentially harm an individual or entity? (2) What is the likelihood of the tweet having already been read or retweeted – how long was the tweet online before the error was discovered? (3) What is the likelihood of the corrected tweet receiving as much attention as the initial error? (4) What is the likelihood of success in being able to contact the individuals or sites that have reposted the incorrect information? (5) Is it even important to correct the initial error?
We don’t yet have all the answers to what’s best in today’s hyper-connected environment, so perhaps we should err on the side of caution…or at least be aware of the potential outcomes of our actions.