Call it the correction that launched a thousand tweets.
Over the years, many errors and corrections have spidered their way around the Internet—beef panties, anyone?—but never before has a newspaper error inspired its very own Twitter hashtag. In that respect, this Washington Post correction for a tone deaf error is one of the most notable corrections of the year:
A Nov. 26 article in the District edition of Local Living incorrectly said a Public Enemy song declared 9/11 a joke. The song refers to 911, the emergency phone number.
Sure, not everyone follows hip hop, though Public Enemy is one of the most important music groups of the last couple of decades. But a journalist could have easily verified that “911 is a Joke” was released in 1990, years before 9/11. In short, it was a preventable, embarrassing error. As such, commenters took little time to notify the paper of the error. Just hours after the article was published, “ieducated” wrote that, “… the song isn’t about 9/11 the song is about dialing 911 the police…listen to the song!”
Wrote another commenter:
I can’t believe such a careless and ignorant error was printed. The song “911 is a Joke” is from the multi-million selling album “Fear of a Black Planet”, WHICH CAME OUT IN 1990. It’s about calling 911 is a waste of time, not about 9/11!
The story appeared on November 26, but the Post didn’t offer a correction until a week later, on December 3. (Coincidentally, the Post’s ombudsman dedicated his most recent column to chastising the paper for taking too long to handle requests for correction.)
On December 4, Jake Tapper tweeted the correction, Mike Masnick wrote about it at Techdirt, and the Huffington Post also published an article. Other coverage followed. With that, the correction appeared to reach the apex of its popularity.
Then along came @phontigallo. That’s the Twitter account of Phonte (Phonte Coleman), a member of the Grammy-nominated hip hop group Little Brother. Just after 11 p.m. on Sunday, he tweeted a link to the Post correction and noted, “This inspired my next trending topic.” From there, he unveiled the #washingtonpostcorrections hashtag, which invited people to come up with amusing imagined corrections related to famous hip hop songs and artists. He started things off with these:
Soon, people were chiming in and a meme was born. Twitter users continued to churn out imagined Post corrections into the early part of this week. Some of my favorites:
@iivoreee: ‘Fear of A Black Planet’ determined to be an album and not a critique of a struggling dating site.
@jsmooth995: George Clinton has assured us his roof remains intact, and he takes fire safety quite seriously
@corones: An earlier article incorrectly stated that Chicago was not Frank Sinatra’s kind of town. In fact, it is.
@corones: An earlier article incorrectly stated that Sir-Mix-A-Lot dislikes big butts. We regret the error.
@justinmpeterson: We regret mistakenly asserting that Coolio had been spending most his life living in a gangsta’s paradise.
@justinmpeterson: We would like to clarify that if you got a problem, yo, Vanilla Ice will not actually solve it.
Also on Twitter, Post reporter J. Freedom du Lac (@jfdulac) took note of the trending topic:
Not surprisingly, our “9/11 is a joke” correction has become a meme. And some of the #washingtonpostcorrections are hilarious.
One person also used the hashtag as a vehicle for media criticism:
@streethistory #washingtonpostcorrections is still more accurate then the #washingtontimes
(We’ll forgive him his “then” error…)
Corrections are often amusing. This was a great example of that fact. But the use of a correction to create a hashtag is also a powerful reminder that the public knows what corrections are, and why they exist. The commenters on the Post’s story didn’t hesitate to demand a correction, and Twitter users had no problem using the correction format and tone as a means to elicit humor. It speaks to how ingrained the correction is in the minds of citizens and media consumers.
The birth of the #washingtonpostcorrections hashtag once again sends the message that people expect corrections. News organizations also shouldn’t be surprised to see their mea culpa take on a life of its own.