Corrections, apologies and retractions: Misinformation in social media news

By: Yadira Nieves-Pizarro

Misinformation

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.

References

Al Jazeera. (2014, September 7). Al Jazeera Arabic article retracted. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from Al Jazeera: http://www.aljazeera.com/pressoffice/2014/09/al-jazeera-arabic-article-retracted-201496233734278507.html

Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly. (2013, November 11). Krokodril Media Frenzy Presents Misinformation. (A. Knof, Ed.) Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Weekly , 25 (43), pp. 1 – 3.

Allen – Hendricks, J. (2010). The Twenty – First Century Media Industry: Economic and Managerial Implications in the Age of New Media. Plymouth,, UK: Lexington Books.

Andén-Papadopoulos, K. &. (2013). Re-imagining crisis reporting: Professional ideology of journalists and citizen eyewitness images. Journalism , 14.

Cardew, B. (2014, July 28). Storyful’s social media verification puts open journalism principles into practice: Stories such as MH17 crash highlight importance of checking content’s validity. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from Guardian: http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA376257628&v=2.1&u=msu_main&it=r&p=STND&sw=w&asid=0f226ef78a63a8fe39d616dd2d28cec9

Center for News Literacy. (2014). Latino Oriented News Literacy Curriculum Workshop. In D. Miller (Ed.). Chicago, Il.: Stony Broke University School of Journalism.

Conaghan, J. (2015). Newspaper Digital Audience. Newspaper Association of America.

Friend, C. &. (2007). Online Journalism Ethics: Traditions and Transitions. Armonk, New York, USA: M.E. Sharp Inc.

Greitemeyer, T. (2014). Article retracted, but the message lives on. Psychon Bull Rev , 21, 557 – 561.

Guskin, E. &. (2012, November 6). Huricane Sandy and Twitter. Retrieved September 2014, 2014, from Pew Research Journalism Project: http://www.journalism.org/2012/11/06/hurricane-sandy-and-twitter/

Harcup, T. (2014). Oxford Dictionary of Journalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hermida, A. F. (2012). SHARE, LIKE, RECOMMEND. Journalism Studies , 13 (5/6), 815-824.

Hermida, A. (2012). TWEETS AND TRUTH. Journalism Practice , 6 (5/6), 659-668.

Jhonson, H. M. (1994). Comprehension after a correction: Processes that limit influence from misinformation. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Leopold, T. (2012, March 16). In today’s warp-speed world, online missteps spread faster than ever. Retrieved September 13, 2014, from CNN: http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/06/tech/social-media/misinformation-social-media/

Olmstead, K., & Shearer, E. (2015, April 29). Digital News – Audience: Fact Sheet. State of the News Media 2015.

Potter, W. J. (2004). Theory of Media Literacy: A Cognitive Approach. Thousand Oaks, California, USA: Sage Publications Inc.

Sassen, J. O. (2012). State of the News Media 2013: An Annual Report of American Journalism. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism : http://stateofthemedia.org/2013/digital-as-mobile-grows-rapidly-the-pressures-on-news-intensify/

Silverman, C. (2014, September 8). Amazing Name Leads to amusing Huffingtong Post correction. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from Poynter: http://www.poynter.org/category/latest-news/regret-the-error/

Silverman, C. (2012, December 12). The best (and worst) media errors and corrections of 2012. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from Poynter: http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/regret-the-error/197279/the-best-and-worst-media-errors-and-corrections-of-2012/

Smith, D. (2014, March 20). The Misinformation Age. Retrieved from Officer: http://www.officer.com

Smith, R. (2014). Groping for Ethics in Journalism. Content Technologies Inc.

Vis, F. (2014, January 25). The Rapid Spread of Misinformation Online. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from The Hufington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/farida-vis/the-rapid-spread-of-misinformation-online_b_4665678.html

Endnotes

[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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