Accuracy and the Average Person

Corrections aren’t just for journalists anymore

Jeff Jarvis recently wrote a nice post detailing how everyone is now a content creator. Sure, not everyone writes lengthy blog posts, or engages in an approximation of journalism; but content falls into many categories. A Facebook status update or comment is content. So is a tweet, or a Tumblr post. Not all content is news, but all content has the potential to be news—which means that, more and more, the average person should also be thinking about accuracy, verification, and correction.

Corrections aren’t just for journalists and news organizations anymore. The average person is now able to experience the hot shame that accompanies the distribution of inaccurate information; they are also discovering the importance of effective correction. Perhaps this will help combat the onslaught of unreliable and credulous information that naturally accompanies the explosion of content creation.

The expansion of the corrections universe is happening all the time. People issue corrections for their tweets, on personal blogs, and in Facebook threads and notes. Years ago, when blogging first started taking off, bloggers had to devise a way to correct their posts. Many adopted a system whereby inaccurate information was given a strikethrough and the correct information was placed after it. Even they knew that scrubbing was dishonest and anti-community.

Anyone who generates content or shares information will inevitably encounter a moment when they have to correct a mistake. Thanks to the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies, more and more people are engaging in content creation—and the act of correction. This reality leads me to two main conclusions:

1. There is a role for professional journalists and news organizations, who have been offering corrections for hundreds of years, to provide something of an example. This, of course, is dependent on us actually putting the time and effort required to create and maintain proper correction systems. If we do that, we can help these newer content creators to navigate the world of verification and corrections and, in the process, foster a stronger connection between journalists and the public. There is also a larger benefit: A broad adoption of the contract of correction beyond journalism can improve the overall quality of information and content. This is hugely important in this time of information abundance, and the democratization of creation and distribution.

2. New content creation platforms must play a role in enabling correction. Corrections aren’t just for journalists anymore. The correction needs to be evolved to create informal but accepted standards for things like Facebook updates, comments, and tweets. If you build and operate a platform that enables content creation, you should also be thinking about enabling correction. It’s inextricably linked with the act of creation and dissemination. Perhaps there’s also a way for these platforms to aid in verification—not as censors, but as educators who help foster a climate of verification, rather than a mindless form of dissemination.

This means offering guidance and perhaps training; I’m not suggesting Twitter start trying to verify what people are tweeting. The act of verification and the act of correction are in many ways learned behaviors. I don’t think people learn them by being restricted or given neutered platforms for creation and dissemination. It’s therefore a matter of enabling correction and verification. Twitter recently launched a media section to help media professionals “use Twitter to transform media, entertainment, and journalism.” Maybe it can also create a section of to help guide users on how to verify a tweet or correct one of their own? Could Facebook create correction functionality that enables someone to fix a wall post, rather than simply delete it? I’d love to hear other suggestions in the comments.

When all of us have the capacity to, as Dan Gillmor said, commit acts of journalism, to create and disseminate content, to share and publish information, then we are all now bound by the contract of correction. People should be given the skills and tools to better verify what they see and read and hear, improving what Howard Rheingold calls “crap detection.” They should also be shown better ways of verifying what they choose to share and publish. With those skills comes the need to embrace the importance of correction, and show the ways in which one can help others to fix their errors, and how we can correct our own.

What was once the province of professional content creators and disseminators is, much like the tools of our trade, now available to all. Journalists can play an important role in helping share and spread the skills of verification and correction—and, in the process, help raise the bar for quality information and content in society.

Correction of the Week

“Gun-control advocates praised Justice John Paul Stevens after he announced his retirement Friday. A Saturday front-page article about Justice Stevens’s retirement incorrectly said he had been hailed by gun-rights advocates.” – The Wall Street Journal

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Craig Silverman is the editor of and the author of Regret The Error: How Media Mistakes Pollute the Press and Imperil Free Speech. He is also the editorial director of and a columnist for the Toronto Star.