Hoaxers are crippling Twitter's breaking news value

Buzzfeed's experience with breaking news makes it clear that hoaxes are eroding Twitter's value during a major news event.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Buzzfeed's Charlie Warzel and Jane Lytvynenko on Twitter during a major breaking news event:

Twitter has long been a vital service for following along with current events as they unfold in real time, and a place where news is both reported and made. But in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, Twitter’s usefulness is offset considerably by a growing chorus of trolls, hoaxers, and irresponsible commentators. It’s loud and reactive at a time when restraint is most necessary. In the chaos of an unfolding tragedy, it is no longer a helpful place to follow breaking news.

Anyone who has been following the use of social media to understadmn a breaking news event will know this has been a problem for at least six years, and probably more. The key issue is that it's getting worse:

During the Parkland shooting, BuzzFeed News identified five different people who were falsely passed off as the suspect. Today, there were 25 individuals, including many incarnations of the infamous Sam Hyde hoax. Like with Parkland, two reporters were targets of harassment — Vice political writer Eve Peyser and one of the authors of this post, who was debunking the hoaxes.

Here's that last one:

Increasingly, it looks like the era of Twitter being a good place to follow a breaking news story is pretty much over. The higher the ratio misinformation noise gets compared to geunione signal, the less it's worth journalists spending their time there, as that time is just going to get eaten up by debunking.

As long as the social networks rewards attention-seeking bahviour, the temptation will be too great for a certain class of person to ignore.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.