In an era of heightened fears of terrorist attacks, the media has a responsibility to clearly report breaking news in order not to feed into those fears. A recent story, reported by the UK Mail, is a case in point.
To wit, the UK Mail Online tweeted that a driver “deliberately” drove his car into pedestrians. Over the next few hours, the Mail continued to tweet updates on the story, noting in subsequent tweets that the incident, which injured about a dozen people, was “deliberate.” But, it wasn’t until four hours after the UK Metropolitan Police announced the incident wasn’t terrorism, but rather a traffic incident, that the Mail tweeted that news.
Was it inaccurate and misleading for the Mail not to tweet readers the update earlier?
A reader complained to the UK press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, over the tweets. An IPSO spokesperson told iMediaEthics, “Tweets which refer to an article do come under our jurisdiction – I believe this is the first time we’ve had a ruling like this.”
In terms of the timeline:
- 2:47 PM Mail posts article about incident
- 3:02 PM Mail‘s article adds the headline to say “Driver ‘deliberately mows down pedestrians'”
- 3:11 PM to 6:43 PM: Mail tweets seven times the headline “driver ‘deliberately mows down pedestrians”
- 6 PM Police say it wasn’t terrorism-related
- 6:37 PM: Mail Online deletes “deliberately” from headline
- 6:43 PM: Mail Online tweets the phrase “deliberately mows down pedestrians”
- 8:05 PM: Mail Online tweets the incident wasn’t terrorism
The reader who complained argued it was inaccurate to tweet at 6:43 PM the incident was deliberate, given the article had removed the word and the police said it wasn’t terrorism. Further, the reader told IPSO he thought the Mail should have tweeted before 8:05 that it wasn’t terrorism.
The Mail defended the tweets as part of a “fast-moving breaking news story” and noted its characterization of the incident as a deliberate event was because the word “deliberately” was in quotes and attributed to eyewitness tweets. Because the Mail stood by its reporting as accurate at the time — the newspaper said it accurately reported on eyewitness accounts — the Mail said it didn’t need to post a correction. The 6:43 PM tweet was unintentional, the Mail said, because of a “caching delay” that prevented the social media team from seeing the latest updates. Further, the Mail noted it doesn’t typically tweet each update to a story.
IPSO found that the Mail did accurately report on the eyewitness accounts by attributing the “deliberately” characterization as a claim, not fact. “In the context of a breaking news story, where the available information was rapidly changing, there was no failure to take care not to publish inaccurate information in breach of Clause 1 (i),” which is accuracy, IPSO ruled. And, because the Mail correctly indicated the deliberate characterization was a claim, not fact, and the article linked in the tweet noted the police statement that the incident wasn’t terrorism, the Mail‘s 6:43 tweet wasn’t problematic, IPSO found.
“Whilst there was a delay in tweeting about the amendment to the article, given that the article had not contained a significant inaccuracy, there was no obligation to publish a prompt correction,” IPSO found. “The amended article made the true position clear, and all the tweets linked to this article.”
UPDATED: 2/5/2018 1:34 PM EST With IPSO response