Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

MediaWatch: Here's Why Twitter Won't Tell You What's True...

Posted by Tom Foremski - April 11, 2011

Simon Dumenco is "The Media Guy" columnist at AdAge. He has some advice on "How Twitter Can Stop Its Descent Into a Cable-News-Style Disinformation Network."

He points to two recent cases of disinformation on Twitter:

The recent Jackie Chan death hoax, in which the phrase "RIP Jackie Chan" appeared for days on Twitter's Trending Topics list -- a list which, Twitter tells us, shows topics that are surging on Twitter...

...many Godzilla tweets and retweets were related to the Twittersphere scolding CNN anchor Rosemary Church, who supposedly made a Godzilla joke.

His suggestion for a way to stop disinformation on Twitter is that Twitter should tell its users what's not true.

He is baffled by the mystery of why Twitter won't take action to stop disinformation. He places the blame on:

Twitter management's Stockholm Syndrome relationship with technology ... they believe that technology will ultimately save the day. Only, sometimes it can't.

I can help Mr Dumenco with this one. Twitter considers itself a platform rather than a media organization, and that's not a semantic distinction but rather a legal one.

If it were a media organization like Reuters, distributing news, (which Twitter does indeed do) it would be held accountable about what it distributes.

For example, if Reuters were to distribute a story that wasn't true it would be liable to lawsuits and it would damage it reputation. Twitter can distribute a story that isn't true and face no consequences at all.

Twitter as a platform, can claim it has no knowledge of what people are Tweeting, therefore it cannot be held accountable.

That means it cannot take any action about disinformation on its network, or be seen to be taking such action since that would imply editorial control. Editorial control would mean the end of Twitter, because there is no way it could monitor all Tweets.

It's the same defense that Google, Yahoo, and ISPs make: we provide the media platform but we cannot know (and we don't want to know) what is being published.

Google ran into a problem in Italy last year when a court convicted Google execs over their failure to pull a video of bullies attacking a disabled child. The court did not accept the "platform" argument.

Please see: Analysis: Italian Decision Could Help Traditional Media Orgs - SVW


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