Tweets of deceit and double-sourcing Twitter

The Prime Minister is in the hospital? Thirty bodies in a Texas home? You can file both them under news that wasn’t. As The Current‘s Anna Maria Tremonti said on Friday’s show, “fake news never had it so good.” Common denominator: Twitter.

Inspired by these two very big oops stories, Tremonti dedicated the installment to Twitter journalism and “tweets of deceit”.

First, she talked to Jim Roberts, assistant managing editor of the New York Times, for his thoughts on whether Twitter was having a positive or negative effect on journalism. His answer: positive.

While Roberts said Twitter wasn’t perfect — and admitted there are veracity issues — he maintained it can be a useful tool, especially when journalists follow sources and institutions they trust.

He admits the NYT team jumped the gun on the Texas bodies story, and says in hindsight he wished reporters had waited a bit more. However, he adds, “in that specific case, I think the error that we made was publishing it too quickly, irrespective of whether it was on social media.”

When Tremonti then pushed him for an answer on whether journalists should double source Twitter and not publish anything before they can verify it themselves, Roberts answered:

“Listen, there’s a lot of experimenting that needs to be done I think there’s a lot of potential for bad information to proliferate, but I also think there’s much more good potential for us in terms of reaching a broader audience and getting trusted reporting and accurate reporting in the hands of people who really want it. People don’t want bad information.”

Tremonti also spoke to Linden MacIntyre, co-host of CBC’s The Fifth Estate, and Alfred Hermida, author of new book Participatory Journalism: Guarding Open Gates at Online Newspapers.

Like Roberts, Hermida sees Twitter as another form of dissemination — and it’s hard to blame a tool for a journalist’s mistake.

“News flows into news rooms all the time,” he says, “Twitter is another way it comes in and another way it comes out. We have a duty to look and say ‘hm, does this sound true, what’s the source?'”

The next questions is whether journalists should be putting so-called Twitter stories out as fact, or whether journalists should be telling readers there are reports but the journalist is checking into them. In other words, should journalists be adding qualifiers to reporting via Twitter?

To follow the complete conversation check out the online podcast.