Tag Archives: Twitter

Twitter’s Truth Squad.

Here is what happens when I hear about news indirectly — basically, when breaking news gets to me secondhand:

1. I run to a computer.

2. I open up the nearest Twitter client.

3. I search for the news that I’ve just heard and try to find confirmation that it is either true or false.

In short, Twitter is my first source for news verification. It usually has details on an event long before traditional news outlets can get a full story up online.

But consider what happened to me Saturday night. I see this Facebook update from a friend, a Springsteen fan. It says, “RIP Big Man.”

And I immediately log onto Twitter to search for news about Clarence Clemons.

Except — that’s exactly the wrong place to go for something like this. Twitter is where death hoaxes go to really get rolling. On Twitter, someone impersonating @CNN has announced Morgan Freeman’s death. On Twitter, we’ve seen Adam Sandler and Charlie Sheen and even Mick Jagger die, only to find out hours later that they’re actually still alive.

Death hoaxes aren’t even the worst of it. Sometimes, we’ve got news hoaxes going around. Like the one from real Washington Post columnist Mike Wise. Or a new hoax from a guy who claimed to be a college basketball recruiting expert with inside information. Turned out he wasn’t. Didn’t stop his fake news from getting real attention, though.

What I know is this: we need a way to verify these news-related tweets. Twitter took a big step forward when it introduced verified accounts. But it needs to go a leap beyond that, I believe.

So here’s an open call to the Twitter team: Want to make your corner of the Internet one that actually prides itself on accuracy? Want to make your product the thing that people actually trust?

Start verifying tweets.

Not Twitterers (or tweeple, or tweeps). Go verify individual tweets.

And you’re not going to like how I think we should do it:

With humans.


Hear me out. I’m talking about Twitter, one of the biggest and most powerful news reporting tools on the planet, employing a team of real, actual humans. Humans who make phone calls. Humans who verify information independently, and don’t just Google something to find out if it could be true.

In the past, we called such humans “reporters.” I’d be okay with using that phrasing again.

It’d work like this. Twitter would bring its own team of reporters in house. They’d monitor activity on Twitter. They’d see what’s trending and what’s bubbling just below the surface. And when something big breaks — say, an #RIPBobSaget hashtag — the reporting team would break into action. They’d make calls. They’d independently verify Mr. Saget’s status. If it turns out Mr. Saget was, in fact, not killed in an awful wakeboarding incident in the Swiss Alps, the Twitter team would move to quell the rumor by:

A. Posting a breaking news update at the top of the Twitter page devoted to the hashtag.

B. Creating a push notification specifically targeted to those using the hashtag — or discussing Bob Saget — to inform them of the truth.

That’s the starting place.


But what if Twitter went further? What if Twitter created a specific channel for breaking news, where it could publish breaking news tweets in real time? Think the Google News homepage mixed with the instant refresh technology of TweetDeck, with all news curated by the Twitter reporters. Wouldn’t that be a must-bookmark?

Think of it this way: Why wouldn’t Twitter HQ want to better utilize Twitter as the breaking news service it already is? Give us headlines. Give us the news ticker, Twitter style. Give us a verified account with trusted, we-actually-made-a-call-and-know-this-to-be-true news. Call it @TruthSquad. Call it @VerifiedNews.(1)

And don’t say it wouldn’t pay for itself. When an earthquake hits Los Angeles, and Twitter’s in-real-time news page is posting links and Twitpics, you don’t think the New York Post would pay $10,000 to get their quake story posted at the top of the Twitter breaking news page? You don’t think they’d like the extra million hits they’d get just from Twitter referrals?(2)

Now, do note: there is no way to verify off-the-record or on-deep-background information passed along from some reporters. If @ESPN says, “Sources tell @ESPN that Michael Jordan will be coming out retirement to play for the Miami Heat,” the Twitter team isn’t going to be able to confirm that. They don’t have ESPN’s sources. But they can confirm certain news.

An official Twitter team of reporters can stop hoaxes. They can get truthful information out to consumers.

They can make Twitter the place for trusted, breaking news.

Traditional media can’t necessarily serve this role as the gatekeeper for real-time truth. Tell me again why can’t Twitter do it itself?

  1. Just don’t try to combine Truth + Twitter, because you’ll end up with something like @truthitter. Not a flattering name.
  2. Speaking of which: Celebrities would also be a great source of income for Twitter. When you crash your car, your insurance company pays to fix the damage. If someone starts a Bob Saget is Dead rumor, why can’t Saget get social media insurance to recoup the damages to his brand name? Pay Twitter a little, and Twitter insures that when false information gets out there, they’ll get the real information into the hands of users who care about celeb news.

How Bon Jovi’s Subversive Smiley Face Would Go Viral in 2011.

I got a Bon Jovi song stuck in my head the other day. The song was “Have a Nice Day,” the title track from the band’s 2005 album. It’s got all the Bon Jovi hallmarks: those familiar power chords, Richie Sambora playing a double-necked guitar and multiple lyrics about “living my life.” All it’s missing is that signature “wah-wah” guitar riff.

But the music video for the song got me thinking about how viral campaigns work. The video starts off with Jon Bon Jovi outside of one of his concerts. A fan hands him a copy of the CD, and the singer grabs a Sharpie and draws this little doodle.

Then the fan pulls out his cell phone, takes a photo of the doodle and sends it to someone. And from there, the subversive smiley face goes viral. It’s plastered on mailboxes and billboards, tattooed onto arms and lower backs, and even cut into a corn field.

But step back a second. Let’s see where this all starts in the video.

It starts with that. With a picture taken on an old-fashioned, non-flip, Sprint cell phone. Not a Blackberry. Not an iPhone. A phone that retails today for less than $20.

Let’s put this Bon Jovi video campaign in perspective. The song came out in August 2005. The iPhone wouldn’t be released until June 2007. Twitter wouldn’t launch for another year, and wouldn’t gain popularity for another three years. Facebook was still limited to college students only, and those with accounts could only post one photo — their profile photo.

So this within-a-video viral campaign — one from a song that’s only six years old — is almost comically antiquated.

How would Bon Jovi’s smiley face go viral today? Probably like this.


Bon Jovi draws the image on a fan’s CD. The fan whips out his iPhone and Twitpics it. Then, even though it’s a doodle, he Instagrams the image, because everything looks better in sepia.

The Twitpic gets a little bit of traction at first — a retweet here, a retweet there. Someone mass @-replies the message to celebrities. @kimkardashian makes the image her profile pic.

Soon, the smiley has its own Facebook page — Can this smiley face get more fans than the Jonas Brothers?

Then it gets its own Twitter account — @SubversiveSmiley, along with dozens of impostor accounts. (@FakeSubversiveSmiley, @SubversiveFrowny, @SubversiveSmileyGlobalPR, among others.)

(The Twitter account is later republished in book form, and makes the New York Times best-seller list. The CBS sitcom based on the tweets — “Have a Nice Day” starring John Stamos as a stuck-in-the-80s Jersey dad trying to make good — gets cancelled after the third episode.)

4Chan launches a meme — #icanhazsmiley — and then the Cheezburger Network launches a site devoted to sneaking the smiley face into famous photos “Where’s Waldo” style.

HuffPo publishes a photo gallery of 21 famous smiley faces, and although mostly inane, it draws 11 million page views.

@KanyeWest retweets the initial image with the hashtag #SWAG, and announces his next album will be called “Show Me How to Smiley.”

The image jumps the shark.

Two weeks later, Bon Jovi’s album, “Have a Nice Day,” finally hits iTunes. Fans are confused as to why Bon Jovi’s album is featuring an image that’s so last week.

What the Death of News Cycles Really Means For Most Humans.

A week ago, Mizzou’s men’s basketball coach, Mike Anderson, left to take the same position at Arkansas. And in the past week, there’s been a lot of speculation about who will become my alma mater’s new head coach. Mizzou went hard after Purdue’s coach, Matt Painter. Today, it looked like MU was going to sign him to a contract. I was following it all on Twitter. I had a column up in TweetDeck delivering every tweet related to Painter. They filed in, sometimes by the second. When the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Painter had agreed to sign with Mizzou, Tiger fans started celebrating. Purdue fans, meanwhile, were pissed. When KOMU-TV in Columbia said the deal was 100% done, things got even more charged. Tweets were tweeted that I wouldn’t want to republish here.

And then, in 20 minutes, it all changed. One Indianapolis outlet reported Painter was staying. Then ESPN said so. Then CBS and FOX Sports. Then Purdue announced, officially, that the contract was done.

The tweets turned around. The Purdue fans were relieved. The Tiger fans were pissed.

After it was all over, I started thinking about a friend of mine, who was on a flight from Chicago to D.C. this afternoon. That’s a two-and-a-half hour flight. In the time between takeoff and landing, he missed an entire stream of emotions and news. While he was in the air, the story went one direction, then 180ed and went the other. The life cycle of the story started and ended in less time than wheels up to wheels down. When he landed, the story was already over. Like, over. Dead. Forgotten. By tomorrow, outside of Columbia, Mo., and West Lafayette, Ind., nobody will pay any attention to what’s just happened. The news will be less than 12 hours old, with emphasis on the old.


So here’s a thought. It’s not scary or frightening or dangerous to our democracy. But I think it’s something worth considering.

It’s this: We don’t have news cycles anymore. We used to. We had news cycles where topics dominated the news and then faded out in favor of other topics. We had news cycles that lasted long enough for the public to learn about the topics of the day and make decisions about them. We had news cycles where what was in Tuesday’s Washington Post was probably still headline news on Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”

We don’t have that anymore. But we did, as recently as a decade ago.

I know, because, well, TV told me so. I was just watching a “West Wing” episode — Season 1, Episode 21: “Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.” It aired on May 10, 2000. In it, Rob Lowe’s character, Sam Seaborn, is photographed by paparazzi late at night while giving a graduation gift to a friend. The friend happens to be a call girl, and Sam’s a speechwriter for the President. Sam doesn’t see the paparazzi, but he does see a car rush away from the scene, and he’s suspicious. His worried about what a photo could do for the President’s public image. He calls C.J. Cregg, the President’s press secretary, to tell her what he’s seen.

Here’s the conversation that ensues the following morning between Leo McGarry, the President’s chief of staff, and C.J.:

LEO: How do you not tell me until this morning?

C.J.: Leo…

LEO: How do you not call me last night?

C.J.: We didn’t know anything last night.

LEO: Sam called you.

C.J.: That’s right. He met the girl and saw a suspicious car. I’m not going to call up the White House Chief of Staff in the middle of the night because someone started a car.

LEO: C.J., if it was…

C.J.: I was handling it, Leo. It took me three hours to confirm there was a picture, and another hour to find out who has it.

LEO: Who has it?

C.J.: The London Daily Mirror. They paid a waitress friend of hers $50,000 to set it up and confirm that she was a call girl.

LEO: When is it running?

C.J.: It’ll run later today. American press has it tomorrow morning.

In May of 2000, that was a realistic conversation. It wouldn’t be today. The obvious thing is that once the British paper got the photo, they wouldn’t be waiting for the presses. They’d have the photo online, and then everyone would have the photo. You’d wake up and it’d be staring back at you from your Facebook news feed.

There’s one another thing that wouldn’t happen today: If the President’s press secretary was lucky enough to find out in advance about scandalous news — say, if a USDA executive made controversial, on-the-record remarks — the White House would be barely ahead of the news cycle. But mostly, the news cycle is ahead of the actual newsmakers. Something is said, something is known, the public learns of it, the public renders its verdict on the news, and perhaps only then would the C.J. Creggs of the world have a chance to comment on it. The story is revealed in parts, often haltingly, and often without all the details. By the time the full story surfaces, the news cycle is already over.


So, no, we don’t have news cycles anymore. We have moments. They start and they end faster than we can even process. A government’s overthrown in Egypt; we watch, and we forget. Japan’s hit by a tsunami, and it’s out of the news two weeks later. Libya’s being bombed, Iraq and Afghanistan are still at war, Sudan’s splitting apart, the economy’s slumping, the Chinese are doing God-knows-what with our money, the price of oil is rising, the dollar is falling, the cherry blossoms are blooming and the Nationals still don’t have an Opening Day starter. All moments. There are all these moments happening around us, all in real time, and we’re able to actually watch them pass and disappear behind us. You can sit there at your computer screen and actually watch the moments pass, in one eye and right out of sight.

I know, because today, I sat with a TweetDeck column open for the words “Matt Painter,” and I watched them pass.

It’s sad that that “West Wing” episode is hopelessly antiquated, because it’s only a decade old. Here’s a better example for our modern news cycle. It’s actually a quote from “Top Gun.” It’s from that fight scene at the end of the movie. Tom Cruise has just taken off from the flight deck in the Indian Ocean. Val Kilmer’s going one-on-five versus the Russian MiGs. The captain of the ship wants to launch additional planes into battle. And here’s what he’s told:

Officer: Both catapults are broken, sir.
Stinger: How long will it take?
Officer: It’ll take 10 minutes.
Stinger: Bullshit, 10 minutes! This thing will be over in two minutes! Get on it!

In Internet time, hours feel like days, and days feel like weeks. The web isn’t killing our brains, but it is killing our internal clocks. When the world is on demand, anything delivered less than instantaneously is an eternity.

That’s what we’re up against today. It used to be that there was no time like the present. No longer. Today, there’s only time like the present. If it’s not happening now, it’s barely happening at all.

What we really need to learn is patience. But where will we find the time?

What Reuters America Means for Stry.

The big news out today is that Reuters is going after the AP. Their new service, called Reuters America, intends to produce “Tier 2 domestic US news” with “one-person bureau chiefs,” with news “tailored to the needs of the US consumer media domestic audience.”

Which means they’re sending one-man bands into under-served markets and selling the news to American news organizations at prices that the AP can’t match.

In brief, it sounds a lot like my plans for Stry.

But here’s a key difference: Reuters America will still answer to breaking news. Per one of their job openings:

The one-person bureau chiefs for the service will be experienced correspondents… [responsible for] chasing down US domestic spot news on tight deadlines (15-30 minutes to match breaking news for Web sites with brief Urgents)

This is where Reuters misses the point.

There is an inefficiency in the news ecosystem, because wire services answer to breaking news. These wire services are easily distracted — time can’t be spent reporting on key issues in communities because a police scanner is lighting up. Great reporting requires focus.

And then there’s one other truth: with the growth of the web and social media, breaking news isn’t hurting, even as news organizations shrink.

So a modern news agency needs to take breaking news out of the equation. That’s the difference with Stry. By removing that obstacle, Stry will let our reporters focus on the stories that are of most importance to communities. Our model will allow us to deliver meaningful news to consumers. The best stories know no news cycles, and we are not going to rush our stories or the news gathering process.

I think Reuters America is doing a smart thing: they’re trying to disrupt the business model that’s taken them this far.

Their only failure is that they haven’t gone far enough.

photo courtesy of Christopher Woo

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I’m trying a new experiment on Twitter this week. Usually, I end each day with a #closingthought. But my closing thoughts have gotten a bit weird. Last week, they were all Allen Iverson quotes. Since I started tweeting out songs more frequently in the morning for #AMinspiration, my closing thoughts have suffered.

So this week, a new experiment: #onefinalread. It’s an article or a link or a tweet I think is worthwhile. Ideally, it’ll be something that makes you stop and think.(1)

#onefinalread RT @Slate: The WikiLeak reveals how skilled the Obama administration is at wielding America’s power http://slate.me/fTw5TQMon Nov 29 23:07:31 via Tweetie for Mac

Thoughts/ideas/suggestions on #onefinalread? Tweet at @danoshinsky and let me know.

  1. Though, now that I stop and think about it: when was the last time you actually stopped and thought?

Lessons From My (Attempted) Week Without Twitter.

I took the week off from Twitter last week. Not with any real purpose in mind, really. I just didn’t want to tweet, and I thought that maybe, it’d open up some free time for me to read the paper or be productive.

But it didn’t.

I kept checking Twitter — habitually. I keep reading stories on the Internet — habitually. And when I sat down for breakfast, I did so with my laptop in tow.

And habit isn’t really the right word here. It’s ritual now. I have a routine for checking news, and something like last week’s spontaneous break isn’t going to change that.

For proof, see this. And this. And this.

Which is where I started thinking about how we can apply this information to newsrooms.

What news organizations need to do is create stories that demand attention. So much of our media is just noise in the background: TVs on mute, tweets ignored.

It’s why, in the launch of Stry, we put this line in our mission statement: “We’re a news organization that’s not easily distracted.” We’re focused on building a team of reporters who’ll focus on the important issues, not the headlines, and we hope it shows in our stories.

And the lesson for publishers: invest in well-reported, original content. Your readers/viewers/listeners can tell the difference.