Yesterday, Amanda Knox overturned her 2009 murder conviction and ended her four-year stint in Italian prison. There was some confusion on Twitter (and even major newspapers’ websites), however, once the verdict was announced, about whether she was headed back to jail or walking free.
The Daily Mail posted a story on its site shortly after the Italian judge read Knox’s verdict. The headline (blogger Malcolm Coles has a screenshot) confidently proclaimed, “Guilty: Amanda Knox looks stunned as appeal against murder conviction is rejected.” Only it wasn’t.
Other members of the media, including a reporter from British newspaper The Guardian, also tweeted false information about the verdict. Users were quick to point out the error, but the (mis)information was still out there. In the furious race to be first, reporters and news outlets sometimes lose sight of their primary responsibility as journalists: to report the truth and keep accuracy as their highest priority.
This is no recent phenomenon, of course; Osama bin Laden’s death is an even better example of how one rumor or piece of wrong information on a social network can snowball and become what hundreds (or thousands) of Twitter and Facebook users are reporting as truth. News outlets and reporters must be more careful about how soon they push the publish button on their tweets and posts because embarrassing blunders can be immortalized in screenshots and Twitpics (as illustrated below), making it harder to sweep mistakes under the rug.