On June 17, 2009, Mashable made a mistake. In a report about the volume of Twitter activity surrounding the #IranElection movement, we accidentally used a “b” instead of an “m,” inflating the number of total tweets one thousand-fold. This, on its own, is not spectacular. Though we certainly try to avoid it, every organization makes mistakes like this. The great thing about the web is that we were able to fix the error within minutes of the article going out. “Billion” became “million,” our readers had the correct information. No big deal.
Except that also within minutes, Ann Curry of NBC News, a very highly respected journalist with an international following, had tweeted our original, incorrect version to her followers. Her repetition of our mistake lent legitimacy to an incorrect stat.
That episode reveals the best and worst of the state of news media today. On one hand, speed allows for flexibility. We were able to correct a mistake almost immediately, instead of having to wait until the next day’s edition. If “Dewey Defeats Truman” happened today, a correction could be made with much greater ease.
On the other hand, the speed at which the real-time web operates also allows false information to spread quickly. The Chicago Tribune only printed about 150,000 copies of their infamous headline gaffe; how many millions of people can see a mistaken tweet? That widespread perception is more difficult to correct.
Nice point: any new tech is a double edged sword!