It’s no secret that some traditional journalists look down on social media reporting, used mainly by bloggers, because they feel that in social media, there is no accountability or credibility. Journalists tend to think that social media is used to report erroneous information without first checking the facts.
To test this theory, Mike Wise, a sports columnist for the Washington Post, tweeted on Monday that Ben Roethlisberger would receive a five-game suspension from the NFL. Roethlisberger is slated to miss six games currently, but he is meeting with the NFL commissioner this week in the hopes of getting that suspension reduced.
The problem was that Wise made up the tweet just to see if it would be picked up by news sources, and some reputable ones did. When the tweet was revealed to be a hoax perpetrated by Wise himself, there was some minor outrage. Wise issued a written apology, and was suspended from the Washington Post for one month – with some at the newspaper saying he is lucky he wasn’t fired.
As a professional journalist, and blogger, I understand the point Wise was trying to make. I’ve seen a lot of erroneous information spread via social media in my two and a half years covering NASCAR for my blog. Just this summer, it was reported that Mark Martin was headed to Red Bull Racing in 2011, allowing Kasey Kahne to take over driving duties of the No. 5 Chevy.
While this rumor wasn’t a deliberate fabrication like Wise’s – I don’t think – it did spread enough to force Martin’s business manager and RBR officials to deny the report.
These inaccurate rumors did not gain traction because people don’t check the facts, as Wise contends. They were spread because the sources that started them have credibility. In Wise’s case, he is a Washington, DC radio personality and a sports columnist for the Post. If anyone has reputable sources, he does. So, more stock is put into what he says, or tweets as it were, than someone without his credentials or credibility. The same goes for most, if not all, journalists with reputable news organizations.
If SuprDaleJrFan88 tweets that Dale Earnhardt Jr is retiring to pursue an acting career, no major NASCAR news outlet would pick it up without verifying the information with a credible source. And, most fans wouldn’t believe it. If Jeff Gluck, Jenna Fryer, Marty Smith or David Newton (to name a few) tweeted it on any other day than April 1st, people would believe it (assuming they didn’t quantify it as a joke or rumor). They’re all reputable, and cover NASCAR for reputable organizations. So, their words and tweets carry more weight than the words of a random tweeter. Their reporting is taken at face value because people assume that they did the legwork to verify it.
That’s not to say that people (non-journalists) should spread rumors. But, they don’t have the same responsibility as journalists to vet a story because they’re not expected to be credible, nor are they making claims of the accuracy of what they’re spreading. Their tweets don’t carry the same weight as a journalists.
And that’s the reason Wise’s experiment was a failure. If he really wanted to test his theory, he should have tweeted from an anonymous Twitter account, which wouldn’t have his credibility attached to it, and see whether or not it would’ve been picked up. I highly doubt it would’ve been given a second look – at least by media outlets.