When and Where Twitter Is Wrong

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We’ve come to rely on Twitter for immediate information. And there is no time we need more immediate information than during a natural disaster. Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the East Coast earlier this week and wreaked pure havoc in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, is the latest disaster the Twitterverse has confronted in our short social media age.

The behavior on the service reveals an interesting twist to a communication channel that has been praised for its microsecond flow of information that can be accessed even when electricity is shut down and ties to more traditional media are cut. Not only can some of the information coming at us be wrong. Some of it is deliberately wrong.

There has always been the chance that second-by-second accounts of breaking news – and particularly disasters – could be less than accurate. When a tsunami is bearing down on you, can you be blamed for a typo or getting a fact wrong? I don’t think so. But the interesting trend with Hurricane Sandy is the number of tweets that were deliberately erroneous.

From a photo of the Statue of Liberty being pummeled by a massive wave (lifted from movie The Day After Tomorrow) to reports of sharks swimming in the flooded streets of Lower Manhattan to more believable scenarios like the floor of the Stock Exchange being under water.

What proved remarkable about Twitter this week was not the technology or the collective creative photo editing abilities of those in the New York Metro area who were quick to set up temporary Twitter accounts under fake identities. What proved remarkable was how quickly the network went into a self-correcting mode. Misleading, wrong or just plain made-up tweets were challenged and updated by other users claiming them to be false. And, as time went on, correct information emerged to override most of the inaccuracies.

In this way then, Twitter functions like “a self-cleaning oven,” according to Rachael Horwitz, a Twitter spokeswoman, in an interview for the New York Times. Which means to say that the casserole you let bubble over last night while you were busy scrolling through your Twitter feed is all cleaned up by now.

Sources: The New York Times, “On Twitter Sifting Through Falsehoods in Critical Times & Tumblr Blog, Is Twitter wrong?


Photo courtesy of Is Twitter Wrong? 

Kathy Drasky
Kathy Drasky regularly writes about online culture. Her marketing and communications work with the ANZA Technology Network, Advance Global Australians and with various Australians and Australian enterprises has led to at least a dozen trips Down Under.

An accomplished digital photographer, her photos have appeared in 7x7 Magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle and Google Schmap.
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