Retweet the Error

Corrections migrate to new media platforms

In exploring the emerging universe of Twitter, the service’s users have created hashtags and retweets, and have helped popularize URL shorteners. Alongside these innovations, Twitter users have also adopted a practice that is decidedly old media. Yes, I’m talking about the correction.

Years ago, when blogs began taking hold in the minds and browsers of the people, bloggers were faced with the following question: If you blogged something that turned out to be incorrect, how would you fix it? This is a basic challenge faced by anyone engaging in what Dan Gillmor called “acts of journalism.” If you practice reporting, then you have to be accountable for your mistakes. If you purport to publish, you’ll inevitably make an error.

Bloggers have used a variety of methods to correct their work over the years. Some strikethrough the incorrect text, placing the correct information after it. This looks messy but is valuable, because it shows the reader what was wrong with the original version. Others, such as the blog Torontoist, have evolved a more detailed corrections format. Unfortunately, some bloggers will just scrub an error off the page. (Mainstream news outlets have also caught the scrubbing plague.)

The point is that new tools or technologies that enable people to report or publish inevitably give birth to new forms of correction. Aside from suggesting that journalistic ethics travel reasonably well, it demonstrates that the correction is ingrained in our collective consciousness. Hundreds of years of correction notices in newspapers and magazines have trained people to expect journalists to admit and correct their errors. Now, members of the public are learning to correct themselves.

Search for “correction” on Twitter at any given time and you’ll turn up pages and pages of people correcting erroneous tweets. Some, such as @Powell fall victim to typos:

Twitter correction…mow their “lawns”, not “laws” - though there is truth to the first twitter too.

Or this, from @jedimasterbryan:

correction to my last: won, not one

Twitter users frequently correct URLs after sharing them, as was the case with @clthornton:

URL correction: I also post commentary & links on my Facebook page. Friend me at

These are examples of casual usage, but they’re all valid corrections. Traditional media have also been flocking to correct themselves on Twitter. The Associated Press business feed (@AP_Business) tweets corrections:

Correction: Brown-Forman Earns story

Ana Marie Cox (@anamariecox) also corrected herself when tweeting an appearance by Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential campaign:

CORRECTION: Palin lauded those who “cook our food,” rather than eat it. Still, that means Mario Batali is a better American than you.

Other types of news organizations have also issued Twitter corrections.

The end result, I think, is that for all of its failings—and lord knows no one talks about them more than me—the correction has proven adept at moving from one medium to the next. We can still improve the standard in both old and new media, but there is a strong foundation upon which to build. The correction has mindshare. People know what it is. And now that the average person has access to the tools of media creation and dissemination, they also know that correcting the news is just important as reporting it.

Correction of the Week

“In our review of ‘Ruined’, Lynn Nottage’s play, ‘Political charge’ (May 23rd), the phrase ‘violent genital mutilation’ was written as ‘violent genetic mutilation’. Our apologies.” – The Economist

Sorry About That Whole “Killer” Thing

“In our article (July 6, 2008) headlined Met Marksman gets £5,000 payout over ’serial killer’ quip, we quoted a senior police officer saying the Met marksman was known as ‘Killer’ and that ‘he revelled in his nickname’. We have been assured by the marksman that he does not have that nickname and consequently could not possibly have revelled in it. We accept this and that his claim against Commander Sue Akers was not therefore hypocritical and we apologise for any embarrassment or distress this may have caused.” – Sunday Times (U.K.)

Parting Shot

“A solicitation for Write Your Own Column in the Sunday Gazette-Mail Life & Style section was outdated and in error. There is no pay offered for columns that are selected and printed.” – Charleston Gazette

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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.