Lies Have Long Lives on Twitter

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Most of a brand’s Twitter management duties consist of tweeting fun little tidbits and conversational items to get followers excited about the company. But what looks fun from the outside takes a whole lot of effort on the inside. In fact, entire afternoons can be spent figuring out what our tweets should say to our consumers. Yet it takes no time at all for Twitter to be used as a weapon against our brands. Rumors, distorted information and outright lies spread faster than the speed of light on Twitter and making them go away can be a serious undertaking. Just ask South Carolina governor Nikki Haley.

Haley’s Twittertastrophe grew from an unknown blogger who reported that the Republican governor was on the verge of being indicted. According to the New York Times, the blog Palmetto Public Record claimed that Haley was facing indictment on tax fraud charges. Logan Smith, the blog’s editor, had no contact with the governor’s office before he posted his story. In an email to the Times, Smith was fuzzy, to say the least, on where he got his information.

“I reported that credible sources said they believed the governor would be indicted — not that I knew she would be indicted, or even whether or not I personally believed she would be indicted,” he said.

Yet the damage had already been done. The blog was tweeted and major news outlets in the area started to report Haley’s supposedly inevitable indictment. The Washington Post, CBS News, Buzzfeed and the Huffington Post all re-posted the story on Twitter. Only thing was, it wasn’t true. And no one bothered to check and see if the “news” was actually news before posting it on Twitter and reporting it. The governor and her team then spent days trying to stamp out the blazing rumors.

Haley’s disaster isn’t the first time we’ve seen lies spread through Twitter at lightening speed. From phony celebrity deaths to made-up business news, Twitter doesn’t have a great reputation when it comes to telling the truth. But journalists, publicists and Twitter-for-business gurus have to remember that Twitter is still only a social network. It’s not a news network or a reference website. It’s a place where sitcom stars can post pictures of the salads they had for lunch and where brands can chat about their latest products. For real news, marketers and reporters alike should go elsewhere. And news outlets like CBS and The Washington Post should try fact checking before reporting tweets as gospel.

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