The Mike Wise Issue in One Tweet

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Regarding Washington Post columnist Mike Wise and his experiment on Twitter—where he sent out tweets containing made-up information to basically test a theory and see if people would pass it on without verifying its accuracy—this tweet by John Ourand with Sports Business Journal says it all: “@MikeWiseguy You aen’t right about “nobody checking facts” on Twitter. People trust you and WaPo and figure your “news” is accurate.”

Ourand then followed that with a tweet to say: “@mikewiseguy A better test would be to set up an anonymous account and see how many follow fake news then. My guess is not many.”

When someone sees something reported by a Washington Post reporter—on Twitter or elsewhere—they assume it’s already been verified. And I think it’s completely understandable that someone would make that assumption. Outlets often say “so and so is reporting that such and such will…”  They’re covering for themselves in case the info ends up being inaccurate and giving credit to the source at the same time. Retweeting accomplishes these things as well.

I agree with Ourand, if Wise really wanted to test out whether people would pass along news without fact checking it, he should have tried using an anonymous account. But a tweet from Wise, or someone else who has built a reputation in the sports journalism business, is going to be taken as the truth or at the very least, worth forwarding along and credited to the source so that everyone’s clear on where it came from.

Whether we’re talking about Twitter or everyday offline interactions, when some people see someone say something newsworthy, or that they find interesting, they tend to tell others about it. If it were a stranger reporting NFL news, people might not repeat that news to others or they might investigate first. But when it’s Wise sending the tweet, people assume he’s already done his fact checking and, if he hasn’t, it’s his name that’s on the line more than theirs. It’d be different if a fairly unknown individual’s reporting had been retweeted and passed on by news outlets and others—then I’d put the blame more on those who put trust in someone who maybe had not earned it yet.

I thought Wise’s apology on his radio show (which I only read and did not hear) was well done and particularly nice to see in an age when many public figures issue apologies that aren’t really apologies.  But I still don’t agree with Wise’s tweet that came prior to that, in which he said he was sorry but also said that he “was right about nobody checking facts or sourcing.” Ourand hit the nail on the head with his tweet back to Wise. Trusted news sources are considered exactly that, trusted.

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