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Should journalists delete incorrect tweets? (Credit: Twitter)

News outlets typically issue corrections whenever they publish incorrect information.

However, as more and more news outlets venture onto Twitter to disseminate news, the question remains: how do you correct a tweet?

Following the incorrect reporting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ death last weekend, several journalists have discussed the issue of Twitter corrections.

Poynter hosted a “live chat” this week to tackle the topic.  Included in the chat were:  Search Engine Land’s editor-in-chief Danny Sullivan, Mediabugs’ Scott Rosenberg, and Lost Remote’s editor Steve Safran.

The journalists discussed how to correct tweets, if incorrect tweets should be deleted, and what functions they’d like added to Twitter.

There wasn’t a consensus on whether incorrect tweets should stay and risk misinformation being spread — or if tweets should just be deleted if they’re wrong.  Safran suggested that “better to have a record of how something was covered rather than waiting for a ‘This is the Official Tweet of Record.'”

Likewise, Rosenberg argued for leaving the errors up.  By deleting tweets — or blog posts — “you end up with a correct public record.”

However, Danny Sullivan wondered if by deleting incorrect tweets it “maybe helps prevent misinformation from getting out.  As long as you issue a correction, I think it helps alleviate any ‘scrubbing’ concerns.”

In terms of Twitter messages being part of the public record, Rosenberg noted that “Tweets are permanent — they live at a permalink URL and go into the Library of Congress.”

Safran commented that “what was of major interest to us was that there seemed to be no set policies — not even internal ones — about whether or not news should delete incorrect tweets.”  When asked, slightly more LostRemote readers were “in favor of deleting incorrect tweets,” than leaving the incorrect tweets up.

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The journalists brainstormed over what functions could be added to Twitter to aid journalists:  correction, edit and strike-through features all were discussed.

While Sullivan liked the idea of a correction function, he commented: “don’t expect it soon.”  But, Sullivan did write that it “appears” if one deletes one’s own tweet, retweets (or forwards of that tweet) are deleted as well.  Poynter’s Mallary Tenore noted that Poynter “did ask Twitter to take part [in the chat], but they declined the offer.”

See the whole live chat here.

Rosenberg also wrote about the issue on his blog here and here.  On it, he wrote that while he’s in favor of leaving tweets up – even if they’re inaccurate — he “wouldn’t fault any news provider for deciding to delete an erroneous tweet, provided some good-faith effort was made to admit the error rather than hide it.”

He also commented that “It’s almost always better to correct than unpublish” (unpublishing is the removal of content).

Craig Silverman explained in a Columbia Journalism Review article that he favors “repeating the mistake in order to ensure people understand the nature of the error.” Silverman, who collected incorrect tweets claiming Giffords died here, cited both NPR’s Andy Carvin and an NPR station in Boston, WBUR, which both kept their inaccurate tweets up in order to be transparent and “own the error.”

However, CNN, Reuters and PBS NewsHour deleted their tweets that Giffords had died, Silverman noted. PBS Newshour’s Teresa Gorman explained to Silverman that she deleted the incorrect tweets because the inaccurate information “kept getting retweeted hours later.”

iMediaEthics is sending out email inquires on this topic and will update when receiving response.

Send us your questions to info@asrlab.org or submit in comments below and we’ll see if we can get experts to answer them right here.

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