Corrections, apologies and retractions: Misinformation in social media news

By: Yadira Nieves-Pizarro


News organizations continue to see growth pertaining their online publics (Olmstead & Shearer, 2015; Conaghan, 2015). Social media is an audience magnet for news businesses that use these outlets to promote their stories as they develop in real time. Today, the organization’s social media accounts serve users that consume their news through these information fire hoses (Sassen, 2012).

For an occupation based in a discipline of verification, social media content in news media generates tremendous pressure for journalist (Hermida, 2012). The journalism practice of appropriating of raw information in their social media accounts often lead to corrections[1], apologies[2] or retractions[3], diminishing their credibility among online news consumers. For the journalism field, and communication science in general, it is necessary to sharpen the definition of the raw information concept and its relationship with the reputation of the fourth estate.

In the present ecosystem, the idea of publishing information beyond the filters of news organizations is democratic, inclusive and popular (Potter, 2004). Indeed, social media promotes the participation of the public in the news gathering process (Potter, 2004). The interaction between citizens and professional journalist promote a symbiotic collaboration that enriches the stories (Jarvis in Andén-Papadopoulos, 2013). Yet, sometimes this cooperation may lead to missinformation.

Verification is at the core of the journalism discipline, setting it apart from other forms of communication (Hermida, 2012, p. 659). This practice grants journalistic communication with credibility and believability (Hermida, 2012, p. 661). Journalistic claims to truth telling are based on news practices such as journalistic presence (being there) and the use of images (Andén-Papadopoulos, 2013, p. 963). Nevertheless, “the role of eyewitness is being outsourced to private citizens” with mobile phones (Zelizer in Andén – Papadopoulos & Pantti, p. 964).

The origin and reliability of these images, necessary for communicating with the growing social media audience, is occasionally difficult to verify (Zelizer in Andén – Papadopoulos & Pantti, p. 964). The content that citizen journalist, bloggers, among others, disseminate into cyberspace through social media is called raw information. The Center for News Literacy (2014) has defined raw information as:

Direct unfiltered information, that has bypassed institutional or traditional media gatekeepers and distribution cost in order to sell, publicize, advocate, entertain and inform. Anyone with a web connection, photocopier or a can of spray paint can transmit raw information, which often results as an outlet for self-expression, entertainment, promotion, advocacy or propaganda. The practice adds a multiplicity of voices to the information environment. Some of the examples of raw information can be seen on social media, blogs, user comments and ratings in websites, chain mail, text message forwarding, flyers and graffiti.

Frequently, unverified raw information will produce a correction, apology or retraction from the news organization. While most news organizations are adamant about apologizing or offering corrections, on the grounds that such a public admission of fallibility might cause the audience to view them as unreliable, others hope that trust in the outlet might be increased (Harcup, 2014, p. 17). Conversely, the Society of Professional Journalist code of ethics urges its members to be accountable by admitting mistakes and promptly correcting them (Friend, 2007, p. 107).

Raw information that results in misinformation may occur in collaborative journalism. Measures have to be taken in order to subside journalists urge to publish without verifying information. Even as the user retains the corrected misinformation, the media outlet or the journalist will forever be associated with the error at a subconscious level. Furthermore, corrected misinformation from raw information that has turned viral[4] seldom reaches all the members of the audience that came into contact with it.

Having worked as a television news producer and, later, as a journalism professor has given me a special insight into the subject. In the newsroom, the race for being the first overrode all conscious efforts to verify and fact check every inch of the stories portrayed in the newscast our website and social media accounts. Lack of personnel and resources were often to blame for production mishaps and inaccuracies in news reports.

Reflecting on the outcomes of the journalism business, ethics and technology have to go hand in hand and should account for news literate audiences. Lamentably, professional journalists often get pulled into the vortex of publishing quickly and correcting later. A revaluation of news production routines and a better distribution of available resources could benefit journalism in small markets and entrepreneurial efforts to prevent misinformation.


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[1] “A correction is an acknowledgment of an inaccuracy and its replacement to what is believed to be the accurate information.” Print media have a regular space for corrections, whereas websites amend the copy itself and add a note that a change has been made (Harcup, 2014, p. 68).

[2] An apology is an expression of a news organization’s regret and remorse over the publication or broadcast of a story that was inaccurate, unjustifiably intrusive, or in some other way deemed to contravene either law, a code of ethical guidelines or both (Harcup, 2014, p. 17).

[3] A retraction is a public statement made about an earlier statement that withdraws, cancels, refutes, diametrically reverses the original statement or ceases and desists from publishing the original statement (Smith R. , 2014). It is a form of correction that withdraws the offending piece of journalism and states that it was untrue (Harcup, 2014, p. 266).

[4] Viral communication occurs when hundreds, thousands or millions of people send a message from one to another using mobile telephones or Internet technologies (Allen – Hendricks, 2010, p. 81).


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