Last week, I argued that the best way to use Twitter to learn about the revolutions was to follow more specific topics and then to fact-check the information gathered from your Twitter feed.
Andy Carvin (@carvin), the well-known NPR reporter who has been curating social media from the recent protests, recently turned my model on its head: he instead used Twitter AS his fact-checking device.
It all started with this skeptical tweet to @acarvin:
The question was important because a Libyan expat news service called Al Manara had recently posted the picture with the title “Israeli industry against the Libyan people.” The assumption of Israeli involvement emerged from, among other things, the “star of David” that seemed to be on the front of the mortar.
Carvin then took the same question about the mortar and tweeted it out to all of his followers, effectively crowd-sourcing the fact-checking process. He received rapid replies from a combination of real experts, armchair experts, and good-Internet-googler experts…all of whom had objections to the premise of an Israeli origin. He even assigned voluntary tasks to the twitterverse, asking for them to do more research on other images of mortars to confirm what he was learning.
He soon discovered that the item wasn’t a mortar at all; it was an illumination round, and one most likely made in India, not Israel. Yet even as his group of followers seemingly settled the issue, Al Jazeera Arabic continued to quote rebel groups blaming Israel. In this case, new media had debunked a theory and done better fact-checking than the mainstream media, only to raise another question: does it matter how useful social media had been to Andy Carvin and his crew if the results still hadn’t impacted reports from other media outlets? Is that something that might change over time?
@acarvin has high hopes:
“The moral of this story? For one thing, rumors gonna spread – and Twitter can serve as an easy vector for spreading them. But as I’ve said for a long time, Twitter can also be a place where rumors go to die.
In this particular case, a rumor perpetuated by several news sources was easily debunked by a group of people on Twitter who don’t know each other and likely will never meet each other in person.”
The whole story (sidenote: it was told via an AMAZING new media tool called storify, which Andy Carvin has used several times to tell the story of various international protests and events) underscored once again the potential value of Twitter in fast-moving, high-tension reportorial situations. Even if it is not perfect for all news-gathering, Twitter can give enterprising storytellers a way to filter the crowds to create a better story in a mix of citizen journalism and editorial supervision. #thefutureisinsight!