That said, there are some emerging best practices, and you can read my previous column that offered four guidelines for pushing out a correction on Twitter.
As explained by Safran, the primary reason cited for deleting an incorrect tweet is that it can prevent people from continuing to retweet it. This is valid. Have a look at the number of retweets for NPR’s initial, incorrect report, according to Topsy. Using the same measure, less than half the number of people then retweeted the update/correction. It’s not an exact measurement, but Topsy used the same protocols for both tweets, which suggests there is an issue.
The same dynamic seemed to be in play when, last year, the @BreakingNews account sent a mistaken tweet about an Icelandic volcano eruption. On Twitter, it seems, people don’t retweet corrections as often as they tweet the initial, incorrect news. As I wrote in my previous column about correcting tweets, “Remember that when something is retweeted, it takes on more authority among people and search engines—so your job in issuing a Twitter correction is to get it retweeted as much as possible.”
One good general practice that I’ll add to my previous Twitter correction tips is that a news organization should make an effort to reach out to people who retweeted the incorrect information in order to make sure they pass along the new, correct information. We have a responsibility to follow up on our correction tweets and help give them the push and distribution they require.
Aside from that guidance—and the suggestion that news organizations never delete incorrect tweets—there’s a role for Twitter itself.
A Twitter Correction Function
My suggestion is for Twitter to enable a correction feature, much in the same way it created a retweet function. What would a useful Twitter correction feature look like? Here’s my suggestion, and please share your feedback in the comments:
User Controlled: First things first: It’s neither feasible nor desirable to have Twitter play a role in determining which tweets do or don’t deserve a correction. This feature has to be controlled by users and only policed by Twitter when there are abuses. Which means the system has to have proper safeguards to prevent abuse.
Notification, Not Exactly Correction: In my vision, the Twitter correction function would let the owner of an account notify all retweeters that a corrected tweet has been issued. Note that I’m not suggesting a user have the ability to force a correction to be retweeted on other people’s accounts. That would too easily lend itself to spam-like uses. So, for me, the solution is to enable someone to automatically send @replies to everyone who retweeted the initial, incorrect tweet in order to inform them of the correction. The function itself takes the form of targeted reply tweets.
Workflow: Here’s how it would look in action:
• User tweets “Mrs. Smith has won the election.”
• That tweet is retweeted by 150 users, using Twitter’s official retweet button.
• Thirty minutes later, it becomes clear the original tweet was incorrect.
• User goes back to their original, incorrect tweet and selects the “correction” button on Twitter.com (or their preferred client), which prompts them to write a corrected tweet. “Correction: Votes still being counted in Mrs. Smith race. She has not been elected.” User hits send.
• Users who retweeted the original tweet receive this reply message: “@username: Correction: Votes still being counted in Mrs. Smith race. She has not been elected. Pls RT”
• The above reply tweet would also be highlighted with a special correction icon, much the same way retweets are highlighted with the square arrows icon from Twitter. (May I be so bold as to suggest using the Report an Error Alliance icon? We’ll give it to Twitter to use for free.)
• Users who click the retweet button on the correction message will also send the message out with the correction icon, thus helping draw attention to it among their followers.
Concerns: There are of course implementation issues, not to mention the fact that we have no idea if Twitter has any interest in this proposal. Aside from those issues, one obvious concern with my proposal is that the correction function could still be abused. By retweeting someone you are opening yourself up to receiving what is in effect a mass message. So I’m still concerned about nasty folks turning this correction feature into a way to spam users. There’s also something of an educational challenge in teaching people how it works. Though I suppose the same can be said for Twitter as a whole. I’ve tried to explain hashtags and retweets to newbies, and it’s not as if those are the most natural things in the world, either.