BBC Acknowledges Twitter Error, But Not Need to Correct

Back in November of last year, CAMERA’s blog pointed out that BBC’s Wyre Davies misled his Twitter followers by wrongly claiming that “nearly all” of the fatalities of the Gaza war that had just broken out were civilians.

@WyreDavies Will you be informing your readers that this tweet is incorrect?

— CAMERAorg (@CAMERAorg) November 15, 2012

CAMERA also brought the error to the journalist’s attention, asking on Twitter if he planned to send out a corrective tweet to notify readers of the accurate figures. He did not.

As our affiliate BBC Watch noted yesterday, the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) determined that Davies’ tweet violated the broadcaster’s guideline calling for accuracy.

The ESC report also admitted a need to “give further thought to its strategy for using micro-blogging services as a news medium.” Still, it rejected the idea that Davies’ posting should have been amended or removed. “There was no requirement under the Guidelines for the BBC to have issued a correction in this instance, or to have deleted the tweet and entered a more accurate one as the complainant had suggested,” the report concluded.

This last conclusion raises some interesting questions. For example, would the ESC have still found that Davies violated BBC guidelines if, after learning that his tweet about casualties was inaccurate, he cleared the record with an informal correction on Twitter?

Even if the BBC does not formally require journalists to correct their Twitter misinformation — and we believe this requirement should exist — why would someone whose profession and reputation depends on accuracy not choose to do so on his own?

Finally, should the ESC’s “questions for the BBC about the use of Twitter by its correspondents” really be so difficult to answer? In the context of the long history of journalism, Twitter is a new technology. But it isn’t that new, and it shouldn’t be treated that differently than news reporting in print, on the radio and television or elsewhere online.

As NPR puts it,

[T]he general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a “traditional” news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or “knocking down,” provide it.

And as journalist and professor Steve Buttry has argued,

Nothing is more important than accuracy and verification. That doesn’t change with using Twitter. Journalists get deceived by dishonest sources or give undue credibility to sources who don’t know what they are talking about in in-person interviews and telephone interviews. And they make those errors on Twitter, too.

Clearing the record on Twitter should be easy. Reporters who err on the site, for example, could simply “reply” to their own tweet with corrective information so that the correction is appended to the erroneous post. More to the point, they should want to do this or some other step that clearly signals to readers inaccurate information was relayed, and does whatever possible to keep the error from going viral unchecked.

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