Is It Okay for Reporters to Tweet Things They Don’t Know to Be True?


Earlier today a rumor whizzed around Twitter that Piers Morgan was suspended from CNN, a false statement that likely seemed credible because he keeps getting mentioned in conjunction with the News of the World hacking scandal. (He used to edit the paper but has not been implicated, really, in any of this.) Jon Snow, an anchor for Channel4News in London, was fooled by a fake Twitter account and shared with his 104,000 followers that Piers was gone. (The tweet's since been deleted). The news was then passed on by some of his media-hungry followers, like Reuters' Anthony De Rosa, before Morgan — an active tweeter himself — was able to put the kibosh on them. Many of those who passed the fake rumor on apologized. But not Reuters financial blogger Felix Salmon, who retweeted De Rosa's news to his 30,000 followers.

He took to his Tumblr (this is where my mother stops reading these posts) to defend the practice of professional journalists trading in rumors in a public forum.

There’s been a lot of shamefacedness and embarrassment on Twitter from people who tweeted the false news that Piers Morgan had been suspended from CNN. I can see why: a lot of the tweeters were professional journalists, foremost among them Channel 4 News’s Jon Snow. And professional journalists hate to report something that’s wrong. That said, one of the things I like about Twitter is that it behaves in many ways a lot more like a newsroom than a newspaper. Rumors happen there, and then they get shot down — no harm no foul. I think that big flagship Twitter accounts like @Reuters or @WSJ should be held to a higher standard. But for the rest of us, we’re conversing on Twitter just like we converse in real life.

Is that okay? I'm not so sure. During the whole marriage-equality debate in Albany, I remember urgently wanting to know the facts and being frustrated by how little was out there. Often, the only reliable way to get information was to follow the Twitter accounts of Times reporter Nick Confessore, Observer reporter Azi Paybarah, and the Daily News' Ken Lovett — all of whom are identified as journalists, but all of whom were using personal accounts. I wanted to know only what they had seen and heard happen, not rumors reported as facts. And I'm pretty sure that's what other people wanted, too.

Chris O'Shea over at FishbowlNY has a bit of a harsher take on the whole thing, but the conclusion is the same: Using Twitter as an external newsroom may be helpful for journalists, but it seems to me that's not what users following them are expecting journalists to do.

There’s been a lot of shamefacedness and embarrassment on Twitter... [Felix Salmon/Tumblr]