When Twitter gets it wrong

Published: February 11, 2012
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Ordinary citizens are never short of spreading rumors or incorrect news online. PHOTO: AFP

I spend an average of 14 hours online every day. During this time, I monitor stories on different news sites, wires stories, Twitter and various other sources. Being in the news business, you can gauge where the news is wrong and where factual inaccuracies are coming from, which (newsflash) happens often.

From politicians to opinion makers to senior journalists, factual errors and incorrect news is nothing new but it isn’t only media folk who are to blame. The online community itself is also part of this phenomenon. While ordinary citizens are never short of spreading rumors or incorrect news online (coup rumours anyone?) the community in their attempts to play the role of a media watchdog has also gotten ahead of itself on multiple occasions.

Fact-checking is skipped, a practice that makes mountains out of molehills when news starts to spread like wildfire. This often results in damage. But is anyone held accountable for their actions? Rarely.

While the internet is a powerful tool that can be used to further causes, a trend has emerged in recent times to misuse it. A recent example is the online petition against Geo News’ Najam Sethi. The petition, which carries more than 650 signatures, alleges that Sethi made “false claims” and attempted to “defame” Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf by calling his ex-wife Jemima Khan a Jew. While the senior journalist did indeed refer to Jemima Khan as a “Jewish woman” , is his statement something that should launch an online campaign? Is this campaign being led by the right people?

I don’t mean to defend anyone or demean a cause. My point is that we need to use online activism intelligently. The Maya Khan case is one example where it was used in a constructive manner and produced positive results. Do all cases merit a campaign, that too, one that ends in the removal of those against whom action is sought?

Most people on Twitter also choose to tweet information that they have received, and most of the time this information is unverified. After an hour or so of the tweet making the rounds, it disappears once the person who posted it realizes it is incorrect. Recently, rumors of a military coup in Pakistan were started by someone who heard there was troop movement in Islamabad. Interestingly, the government-run APP has also fallen into the trap of misreporting or failure to check the report if you will.

Besides this, many tweets and Facebook status updates can technically be construed as defamation, invasion of privacy and a whole host of other worrisome legal grey areas. It is important for citizens to look at their own actions when calling others out.

So the next time you start an online campaign, make sure you do your research and choose your course of action wisely.

Read more by Shaheryar here. Follow him @spopalzai.

Shaheryar Popalzai

Shaheryar Popalzai

A sub-editor on the web desk of The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.