According to a recent Pew study, 15 percent of adults online use Twitter — 8 percent daily. I’m pretty sure most of that 8 percent are journalists. Journalists love Twitter, whether using it for writing, conversation, or fighting. And I love to watch—and judge—the sparring.
If you see a #JournoTweetFight that you think merits inclusion, please give me a heads up @saramorrison.
This column hasn’t been around for long, but I think it’s safe to say that, in terms of large-scale journalist Twitter spats, we aren’t going to top this:
I wish to offer the people of New York a sincere, humble and unconditional apology. twitter.com/ComfortablySmu— ComfortablySmug (@ComfortablySmug) October 31, 2012
BREAKING:Confirmed flooding on NYSE.The trading floor is flooded under more than 3 feet of water.— ComfortablySmug (@ComfortablySmug) October 30, 2012
BREAKING:Governor Cuomo is trapped in Manhattan.Has been taken to a secure shelter— ComfortablySmug (@ComfortablySmug) October 30, 2012
BREAKING:Con Edison has begun shutting down ALL power in Manhattan— ComfortablySmug (@ComfortablySmug) October 30, 2012
Media outlets picked up his information, assumed it was true even though @ComfortablySmug did not claim to be a journalist—in fact, no one knew who he was at all—and reported it as fact to their audiences.
Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski first alerted readers to @ComfortablySmug’s trolling ways. (It should be noted that Kaczynski also tweeted fake hurricane information—in his case, a fake photo. He later deleted it from his feed with nary a trace—except for this photo that appeared in the The New York Times, oops!)
Jack Stuef followed up with some investigative legwork and uncovered @ComfortablySmug’s identity. He’s a man named Shashank Tripathi, who worked for a Republican congressional candidate.
After Stuef’s report, @ComfortablySmug publically apologized and resigned from the candidate’s campaign. He hasn’t tweeted since.
But does he deserve all of the blame? If you’re a journalist, and you let @ComfortablySmug’s tweet get on the air, in print, or just retweeted to your followers, then you didn’t do your job. It would be nice to see some of the media outlets who fell for Tripathi’s tweets or the numerous other social media falsehoods that circulated during Hurricane Sandy issue apologies of their own. I have yet to see an apology or even a correction from CNBC’s Betty Quick or Andrew Ross Sorkin for retweeting this:
Nor from MSNBC’s Touré, who posted this:
He followed that up with a correction, but he didn’t seem too sorry:
This is the most incredible Sandy pic I’ve seen yet. A scuba diver in the subway. twitter.com/Toure/status/2— Touré (@Toure) October 31, 2012
The @ComfortablySmug/social media misinformation issue has been written about quite extensively in the past few days. Here are some of the best articles I’ve found (please add to the list in the comments!):
Ok, the subway scuba pic is fake. That’s why it’s incredible. Cuz it’s not credible.— Touré (@Toure) October 31, 2012
Forbes: “Hurricane Sandy, @ComfortablySmug and The Flood of Social Media Misinformation” by Kashmir Hill:
Given the likelihood that a tweet will be encountered without context, subtle satire does not play well during a disaster. Some of the journalists taken in by him are now eager to crucify him.
GigaOm: “Tweeting fake news in a crisis—illegal or just immoral?” by Jeff John Roberts:
Keep in mind that Twitter is not just an online gab fest, it is also a newswire. During the hurricane, a phone-based Twitter feed was the last and best source of news for some of us who had lost access to TV and the Internet. It was at this very time that Tripathia [sic] chose to make mischief with his fake news reports, knowing full well his lies would be picked up by other news sources. It’s as if the local TV channel began broadcasting fake hurricane news just for fun.
Also: “When Does Community Action Against an Anonymous Troll Become a Lynch Mob?” by Mathew Ingram:
It’s not even clear that Tripathi was the original source for all of the fake news he posted, most of which I saw posted by others as well, including people who claimed to be watching a fire at the Coney Island Hospital. Should they all be identified and charged with a crime?
Guardian: “Even a superstorm is no excuse for journalists not to check Twitter trolling” by Heidi Moore (my favorite of the bunch):
There is a blind spot in journalists’ ability to determine who is credible, and that blind spot is, apparently, Twitter.