This evening I was confronted with a perfect example of what is wrong with real time news. The guilty party was Twitter, frequently touted as a wonderful source of the latest information. The problem is that people are in such a rush to pass on this information, they don't apply any form of critical review.
In this case the news was a story that a woman had been awarded huge damages for her plagiarism case against the Terminator and Matrix franchises. Naturally there was a link: http://www.dannyjohn-jules.com/news.aspx?newsID=10.
One of the scifi news sites picked it up and posted it to Twitter. I'm not going to name them because that's really not the point of this post. Besides they were hardly the only one who got caught out by this.
Twitter being Twitter, this link was rapidly retweeted. I saw one of the retweets and read the original article. Something just ring true about this. How could I possibly not have heard anything about this previously. I'm kind of obsessive about my science fiction. And why hadn't the mainstream media or even websites picked up on a court case of this scale?
So I did what any self respecting geek would do. I Googled it. And look what I found: http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/matrix.asp. It took me a couple of minutes to dig this up and confirm my suspicions. But of course by doing this I was stepping out of the real time news stream. Don't waste time attempting to understand the information you've been given, just pass it on.
Having identified the problem, I then made some efforts to correct it. First I posted a suggestion that this story might not be real to the same hashtags that I had seen it on in the first place. That didn't work. Within 5 minutes someone else had retweeted the story again to the same hashtag. Are people so busy passing information on that they're not actually reading the places they're sending the information to?
So then I tried to contact the retweeter. That didn't work. They didn't respond and seven minutes later someone else retweeted it again. I sent a further tweet to the originator in the hopes they would eventually correct their error, but who knows how far this story will have spread before that happens, if it does.
Maybe the people who are championing Twitter as the future of news, might want to take a serious look at why real time is not automatically a good thing. Lists won't stop this sort of thing, they'll just make the bad information spread faster. You need to step away from the instant gratification, now... now... now... mindset. You need to step back and take time to digest the information you're being given.
I'll take good information in an hour over bad information right now. And that's why I don't use Twitter to get my news.