Posted by Kevin Loker | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 10-07-2010
I love the 80’s, and since the time I pretty much left my mother’s womb, I’ve loved the movie Back to the Future. When I was cast a mad scientist in a middle-school play, my inspiration was Doc Brown. When I was cast as a teenager in a musical about the 1980’s, my inspiration could be no one but Marty McFly. I even bought a puffy vest for the occasion.
So when I saw a tweet yesterday, July 5 2010, saying that we had finally reached the date that Doc set the DeLorean for in Part I of three-part series, I did what any time-traveling, Biff-hating fanboy would do—I immediately retweeted it.
Great Scott, what a mistake. By retweeting the “fun fact” (and sharing my sadness over my lack of hoverboard), I had contributed to the one thing that worries me the most about Twitter: the over 88 mile per hour dissemination of false information. See, “Back to the Future” quickly became a Trending Topic, but it did so with one major problem. , Despite how cool it would have been, the information in the original tweet wasn’t true. It was actually blatantly wrong.
This was pointed out first (at least to me) in a post by @saleemkhan:
That link has since been taken down, but I found another. Let’s first pause and enjoy the nostalgia. Then we talk about how serious of a problem this is for social media.
The video clearly shows that July 5, 2010 is not the date. Later in the movie, Doc Brown sets the Delorean for November 5 2015, picking “30 years in the future” as a “nice round number” for where he was going next. Spotting the mistake is easy with a bit of fact-checking. But more often than not, we don’t always fact-check what we retweet. Sometimes, like this time, we just accept what we read as true.
I actually wrote a blog post about this cultural habit of accepting tweets (and headlines) as true earlier this semester. In short, Twitter can be dangerous for the general public. For people who glue themselves to HootSuite and Seesmic and only step away to eat and use the restroom (us), misleading or inaccurate tweets are not a problem. We’ll notice when they’re corrected, whether it be by a random observer or the person who made the mistake in the first place. We then go on with our lives knowing what’s true.
The general public doesn’t do that. They’re left holding onto that false information, thinking its correct, because they saw it, took it in, and moved on. This is a widespread habit with the inherent speed in which we digest social media. It’s not restricted to Twitter.
Before I found the “conclusive video proof that today is not Back to the Future day,” I made the mistake of posting the fake piece of trivia as my Facebook status. Once I found out it was wrong, I immediately left a comment jokingly saying that “someone lied to me” and more importantly, letting everyone know that today was not the day in the movie. What happened next, after I made the correction? Five people “Liked” my status. They didn’t take the time to see the correction.
We, as a culture, inhale social media. We don’t digest it. My last post was targeted towards news organizations. It emphasized the responsibility of the press in preparing news for a medium that spreads information so quickly. This post is for everyone. We all need to recognize the power of a tool like Twitter for spreading information. We need to put some thought into – and heaven forbid, even double-check – the content of the 140 characters we decide to post.