Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The message is the message... regardless of medium.


Sometimes, when news has hit social media in the past, it spread like wildfire until someone pointed out that it's a hoax - or that a key fact is wrong - at which point it largely died out, except for the hardcore "sheep" that blindly repost everything they see.  

A healthy skepticism for everything that comes along on twitter is good.

We're also now largely getting accustomed to discounting anything that says "according to sources", because if they're not named then they're likely not real - and we're also getting very tired of trusting anything that says "reports say".  Again, if they can't substantiate "whose reports" then it's also likely to be false news.

So along came an event last week where something spread across the Twitterverse at breakneck speeds, proclaiming (paraphrased) that the US Government was warning people not to travel due to an unspecified threat.  After about five minutes, this changed to "The US State Department says not to travel, due to an unspecified threat."…

So I went and had a look at the US State Dept. website.  I found the travel alerts section, and this alert was not on there.  

I did a quick recap:
1.  Unsubstantiated facts = Check.
2.  The supposed source has nothing about this on their news feed = Check.
3.  Other news companies where attributing the news to AP, CNN, etc = Check.

In other words, this looked like a bona fide hoax.  Some time later, however, the US State Dept did in fact put something up on their site - meaning this was true after all.    

Some might argue that maybe twitter is too unstable for news to reliably travel through. In the case of this particular story, I think what should have happened is this:
1.  US State Dept posts the advisory to their website, where people will be heading to when they see it on twitter.
2.  They then hold the press conference.

This is very important:  By doing it the other way around, it means that when the story hit twitter, the lack of available substantiating facts are actually degrading the validity of the story that they're trying to get across.

There's a well worn phrase about "the medium being the message".  I wholly disagree with this statement because as far as I'm concerned, "the message is the message" and if I'm getting the wrong message via the medium of twitter then maybe we change the protocols and not the medium.