A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Mis-Tweeting in the News

In light of our article yesterday about false and misleading political claims on Twitter, we found this story on media mis-tweetment amusing:

Mediaite.com: Just after 9:30 @ABCWorldNews twittered this: BREAKING: President Obama will name Elena Kagan his nominee for the Supreme Court, @jaketapper reports. As you will see, he did not, and the tweet has since been deleted.

It was picked up by one @lensmith22 who RT’d it.

Shortly thereafter Jake Tapper responded…on Twitter: “@ABCWorldNews no I dont.” And then apparently tried to do damage control: @demdailybrief NO I DONT- false report – please delete. And: @lensmith22 false report – I reported no such thing – pls delete.

For anyone who is dizzied by all the Twitter jargon, here’s the gist: ABC’s Twitter feed issued a false report of Elena Kagan’s nomination, attributing it to ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper. Tapper, always the trenchant fact-checker, pointed out that he said no such thing. But by this point, the falsehood had spread rapidly among Twitterers hungry for news but lax about double-checking.

The website Mediaite reported that the mistake was the result of an ABC staffer misunderstanding a "drill" that the news team was conducting, in preparation for coverage of real breaking news. The drill story was reported over an internal loudspeaker, prefaced by, "DRILL DRILL DRILL FOR DRILL PURPOSES THIS IS NOT TRUE," a spokesperson told Mediaite. ABC’s designated Twitterer missed that first part, and the mistake was off and running on the Internet. (The original tweet has since been deleted.)

The moral of this story is threefold. One, Elena Kagan is not President Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court justice, at least not as of right now. Two, don’t believe everything you read on Twitter — but you knew that if you read yesterday’s story. And three, in the age of instantaneous communication, perhaps ABC should consider using less plausible reports for its internal drills. The faster information travels, the faster misinformation travels, too.