Verify, then report

Image from the CNN story.
The whole Morgan Freeman’s reported demise blew up yesterday. To be clear, he is not dead or dying.

Twitter can be much like a game of telephone, which is why it is extremely important that the initial tweet that sets off a chain reaction must be verified BEFORE it’s sent.

While CNN is not the perpetrator of the initial incorrect (and subsequently removed) tweet stating Mr. Freeman’s demise, they’re the ones who caught the flack for it.

They responded quickly with this article posted on their website, but not quick enough for the Twitterverse. While I find the response a bit glib, I think the sentiment was correct and CNN is right to do some damage control.

One of the first things reporters learn is to verify and corroborate a story to the best of their ability before going public with it. In the age of the race to be first, incorrect information is going to get out, but when it comes to killing someone before they’re actually dead, the oweness lies on the reporter and organization to make sure the information is correct before sending it.

In retrospect, the initial tweet could have said, “we’re hearing reports that Morgan Freeman has died and are working to confirm or deny that information” and this whole thing could have stopped before it started. As the initial tweet was quickly removed, no one can determine exactly what was tweeted. Deleting the tweet only made it worse because those on Twitter assumed it came from CNN without being able to see it, putting CNN in a bind.

Maybe this is a lesson in leaving your mistakes open in the same way newspapers print retractions? Do you agree?

6 thoughts on “Verify, then report

  1. I agree completely with you! When I saw via several tweets he was dead, I freaked out! THEN I saw that CNN retracted their statement and I had no clue what was going on.

    All journalists and PR people absolutely need to verify THEN report. CNN was right to do damage control, but not right to lie about it because their website says they didn’t even post the tweet, which they did.

    Honesty and verification could have gone a long way here.

    1. Lauren,
      Thanks for your comments! I did the same thing, got concerned and then irritated. I can’t say for sure that CNN posted or even RTed the original tweet because it’s gone, which only added fuel to the fire. The discussion of transparency and leaving even incorrect or negative statements up, with the appropriate responses, would have greatly helped this situation.
      I absolutely agree that honesty and verification would have made a huge difference in this case.

  2. Here’s the issue… anyone can start a rumor on Twitter. The same things happen in the sports world as well. “I heard that player ‘A’ is going to get traded to team ‘B’.”
    There have been a number of celebs lately that have been reported “dead” on Twitter. I don’t think, in this day and age, you can leave a message out there and then retract later. This medium is too rapid.

    That being said, something I learned a long time ago from a respected boss in TV/Radio. He said, “I would rather you be last and get it right, than first and get it all wrong.” I stick by that today.

    1. Jason,
      That is great advice! I wish more News Directors and editors felt the same way. Just to make sure I”m reading your comment correctly, you agree with deleting the original message?

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