Are Untrue Posts Simply the Nature of the Twitter Beast?

 South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was the victim of an inaccurate blog post that went viral via Twitter.

We all know now the power of Twitter as a communications tool. And much of that power is on the positive side—quick reportage on world conflicts, warning a community of an impending disaster, etc. However, the negative side of Twitter has reared its ugly head once again.

In March, PR News reported on Spike Lee's retweet of a Twitter post that contained the purported address of Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman. Of course, the address was wrong, and an elderly couple having nothing to do with the Martin case received hate mail and threats that forced them to leave their home temporally.

What we've learned from these incidents is that all it takes is a few minutes for word to spread around the globe. This time there were political ramifications, as a blog post by Logan Smith, editor of the Palmetto Public Record, broke the news on March 29 that Republican South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley—who has been mentioned as a possible vice-presidential candidate—could be indicted by the federal Department of Justice. As reported by The New York Times, Smith believed his sources were credible, and he never stated that Haley would be indicted for sure.

However, the story was picked up in a matter of minutes by a blogger from the influential political newspaper The Hill, who tweeted it out to 1,500 followers, which included several political journalists who have large Twitter followings. The story quickly went viral, much to Gov. Haley's dismay. The story wasn't true, and none of the tweeters and retweeters ever double-checked its accuracy before pushing the send button.

Which brings up an interesting point, and a big problem for PR pros: Should Twitter posts even be accurate? In the Times article, Ben Smith, editor and chief of BuzzFeed, argued that Twitter users expect news on the platform to be in constant evolution and should not be taken as the ultimate truth. "The beauty of this is in the speed of the self-correction. If it had been a newspaper report, it could have hung out there for a day," Smith told the Times.

True, a day is a long time for a inaccurate story to fester, but in terms of Twitter, 60 seconds can be a very long time as well.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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