February 13th, 2009
Around 2 p.m. (EST) today, an event happened at a middle school in Springfield, Mass. The details were sketchy at first, as they often are in the first few minutes.
TV station WWLP in Springfield reported that the school was evacuated, and two explosive devices were found, and one had “exploded.”
Here’s WWLP’s early Web report:
The Twitter-based news service @Breakingnewson, which has 25,000+ followers, was quick to post just after WWLP with this breathless tweet:
Just seconds after this tweet, some of @Breakingnewson’s followers started retweeting that note. Who wouldn’t? This sounds like Columbine, right? Within minutes, it had been retweeted dozens of times.
It appears that @Breakingnewson was using WWLP as its source for the original tweet. When you read WWLP’s original note, would you immediately conclude the school was “rocked” by an explosion?
Several minutes after the first post, @Breakingnewson said this:
That sounds more measured, and it shows now that @Breakingnewson was using WWLP as a source.
Only problem, I had refreshed the WWLP page a few minutes before this tweet went out. This is the story WWLP had at the time:
Exploding soda bottles and someone getting burned are nothing to laugh about, but was the school “rocked?” (It turns out the injured man had minor burns on his hand, according to WLLP).
The TV station is now reporting that two 8th-grade boys are being questioned, the school has returned to normal, and class was being dismissed at regular time today.
The lesson here?
Twitter is fast, and it is viral. News organizations on Twitter still need to use news judgment and restraint. These tweets, which were likely seen by thousands of people, are taken as fact by a lot of people.
If you’re a journalist on Twitter, be careful about what you do. Take a deep breath before you report something is “rocked” by an exploding Coke bottle.
Update (4:25 p.m. EST)
We have left an email message with @Breakingnewson asking for comment, and haven’t heard back yet. We will update this post with their point of view when we do.”
Update (11:30 a.m. EST Saturday)
I did not receive a repsonse to my email, but Michael van Poppel of @Breakingnewson has commented below.
Entry Filed under: Twitter