8 rules of live-tweeting ‘breaking news’ learned from the Boston bombing story

The 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, a horrifying event in and of itself, is a reminder of how scary the news can be when misinformation spreads. When explosions first happened, talking heads began speculating on the culprits and dozens of outlets misreported facts. As developments continued to unfold, newspapers, TV stations and other reporters made social media almost unbearable to follow as it became impossible to know what to believe. Most notably, The New York Post misidentified suspects (on the front page, no less) and inflated the number of casualties, while CNN and the AP were lambasted for claiming arrests were imminent or had taken place Wednesday before the FBI and Boston Police had even named who they were/are looking for.

1. Being right is more important than being first.
Being wrong once is a thousand times more damaging to a reputation than being second or third to report the news. After CNN and Fox News misreported the U.S. Supreme Court’s health care decision last year, now everything they say comes with a thought in the back of your mind: “Well, they were wrong before…” Trust takes months or years to earn and minutes to lose.

2. If it’s not your beat, don’t make it your beat.
I’m appalled at sports radio jocks, entertainment reporters and other professionals (especially in cities that aren’t Boston) who suddenly think they need to post a play-by-play on events they don’t normally cover. They’re not going to be reliable sources and their followers/readers/fans who want to hear about playoff games or celebrity gossip are going to be annoyed that they’re getting something else. Feel free to post major/confirmed updates or your own personal reactions but otherwise let the news reporters on the scene do their job.

3. Tweeting like you’re the only one with access to information.
CNN, ABC, AP and CBS News have a combined 15 million followers on Twitter — for starters. Social media users sometimes feel like they must update every human being on earth with every tidbit that gets tweeted, so that even the most casual news consumer feels like they’re being told the same thing all day long.

4. Scanners and dispatch audio are not reliable sources. (Neither are fake Twitter accounts.)
Phony callers, confused authorities on the scene, honest mistakes in the heat of the moment — just because something’s on a police scanner, doesn’t mean it’s true. Slate points out an interesting phenomenon on Friday where false information that Twitter was getting from the scanner was actually false information that the police on the scanner had gotten from Twitter, including updates from fake accounts.

5. Information, whether true or not, can sometimes cost lives.
During a manhunt or a standoff, sharing information about law enforcement locations or maneuvers can tip off the suspects. It’s 2013, so keep in mind they have smartphones and TVs, too. They can see everything that we’re saying about them — and they may thus take action that costs the lives of people who didn’t need to die.

6. “Sources,” “rumors,” “reports” are not the same as “official,” “confirmed,” and “announced.”
Every newspaper, TV station, radio station or news site is aiming to do two things: Inform their audience, and grow their audience. Sometimes to grow their audience (see: make money), they’ll stretch the length of a story or jump on it early with flimsy information. In the case of Boston and the Newtown shootings, “sources” that were incorrect led to false information spreading and innocent people being unfairly accused of crimes.

7. Breaking news that’s already broken.
You woke up at 7 a.m. and you’re just now reading a story that started at midnight? Don’t update everyone on the last seven hours. The world doesn’t revolve around your sleep schedule. That said, major brands still sometimes make the mistake of posting tweets about “breaking news” that a) they didn’t break and b) has been circulating for more than half an hour. When news moves at the speed of social media, breaking news is usually broken within 10 minutes.

8. Twitter is like the “telephone” game.
“Police are looking for a suspect who is wearing a baseball hat” can quickly turn into “Police have arrested a Boston Red Sox fan” if you’re not careful. Especially when limited by 140 characters, details get left out or changed for the sake of brevity. So when you tweet based on another person’s tweeted info, keep in mind they might’ve based theirs on another tweet and so on… consider it the 21st century version of the “telephone” game.

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Twitter tips: 10.5 things you’re still doing wrong on social media

Twitter fail

Oops? Some so-called “experts” are still doing social media wrong, so review these Twitter tips to help.

1. Asking questions that you can get answers to elsewhere
I don’t mind if you post a photo of a new hat and ask people if they think it’s a good look for you, but please stop asking questions when you can get the answer elsewhere. “Hey what time is the game on?” “What channel is that show?” “How do you cook grilled cheese?” Use Google, a TV Guide or a calculator and look up answers yourself.

2. Tweeting without context or explanation
“Oh my god.” “What just happened.” “No way.” “I hate this so much.” The worst posts are the short little reactions to something that your followers have NO IDEA what you’re talking about. You may imagine everyone hanging on your every word so they realize that 75 minutes ago you were tweeting about the football game so they should assume you’re still talking about it, but NO ONE FOLLOWS JUST ONE PERSON. (Except @KanyeWest.) As a result, most people see your thoughts in a mix of posts about news, sports, work, music, personal life, food, etc. — so I have no idea if you’re angry about not getting enough ketchup on your burger or that your best friend forgot your birthday or your favorite character kissed the one you hate on a cable TV show. We’re not literally “following” your every move, so don’t assume we are. Add a hashtag or some other clue to what you’re talking about.

3. Tweeting with a . in front of @ mentions — every time
A good number of Twitter users probably don’t realize that if a tweet starts with an @ mention (i.e. “@MileyCyrus I love you!”) then the only ones who’ll see it are users who follow both you and the account you’re mentioning (and, of course, the account you’re mentioning). It brilliantly keeps conversations from cluttering Twitter feeds, but some have figured out that any reply/mention can be made visible to all followers by putting a period or other punctuation in front of the tweet (i.e. “.@MileyCyrus I want everyone to know I love you”). Use it sparingly — never for out-of-context tweets or conversations your followers aren’t part of (i.e. “.@MileyCyrus Your last tweet was great”).

4. Flooding feeds with Twitter chats or live-tweets
Twitter considers 45 tweets an hour to be spam and some people get dangerously close to it during chats or live-tweeting sports, which is understandable if they’re passionate about the topic. But for the sake of followers who aren’t interested, please do two things: 1) Warn people of the impending flood (“Hey I’m about to join a #xyzchat at noon”) or be ready to apologize after. We’ll always forgive it if you don’t act entitled, like we should hang on your every word. And 2) Minimize annoyance by tweeting unique thoughts with context and avoid unnecessary notes (“Next chat Q coming up in a moment”? Just ask the question).

5. Tweeting about trending topics just because they’re trending
Often trending topics are related to news — so don’t ask “why is Snooki trending?” just click on it and you’ll get your answer. Other times, trends are from what’s on TV or a popular user who started it. Don’t respond like the trending topics are talking to you (i.e. “OMG Mean Girls is trending, that reminds me of that time Sheila was mean to me”). Do feel free to join trending hashtag conversations, but don’t hijack them to promote your crap (i.e. “Check out my new photo! [link] #yolo #imsosickof #twitterconfessions #starwars”).

Facebook Thumbs Down

Facebook posts that automatically post to Twitter? Thumbs down!


6. Facebook posts that feed to Twitter, Twitlonger, etc.
It’s not quantum physics: Twitter has a 140 character limit. If you go over 140, whether through Twitlonger or another service that feeds to Twitter, then people have to click to see what else you said — it’s annoying. Also, keep in mind that if you feed Facebook to Twitter and you post a link on Facebook, your Twitter followers have to click the link to see the Facebook post before they can click the link you want them to — twice the clicks.

7. Inconsistent voice
Dear “community managers” and “brand ambassadors”: If the account represents a business with more than one person, the voice is always “we,” never “I.” Opinions should not be given, unless it’s about the brand (“We think our new thing is amazing!”) or a strong affiliate (“Pepsi thinks BeyoncĂ© is going to rock #SB47!”). And hashtags should be consistent — stick to one tag for the brand and its customers to follow.

7.5. Accidentally posting personal tweets on professional accounts
To err is human, so sometimes you’ll “accidentally” post on the wrong Twitter account. If that happens, delete the tweet, apologize and move on — do not spend the rest of the day/week addressing or explaining the error and, most importantly, do not chastise followers upset by your mistake. It’s your mistake.

8. Hyperbole
How many concerts have you been to that are truly “epic”? Is this really “the worst” restaurant experience you’ve ever had? Opinions make things more interesting on social media (and in real life), so we want to know what movies you liked or hated but curb your enthusiasm when referring to extremes. I expect a 4-year-old to have a new “favorite” toy three times a day, but when you tweet “that was my favorite episode ever of all time” three times a week we assume you’re the least discerning person. Of all time.

9. When breaking news becomes “the telephone game”
Rumors quickly became fact on social media, and false news can spread because you’re tweeting based on what someone tweeted based on what someone else tweeted, etc. Being correct is more important than being first, so check sources and post updates based on credible information.

10. Calling yourself a “guru,” “ninja” or “master”
Adage found that, as of January 2013, more than 181,000 Twitter bios describe themselves as social media gurus, masters, ninjas or mavens. Stop it. How can you master something that’s barely a decade old and is constantly evolving?

Lipreading and live-tweeting: Bring something unique to Twitter during events

Lipreading: Examples of sounds and what mouths look like when saying them

Lipreading: Examples of sounds and what mouths look like when saying them

Twitter is an increasingly fun way to watch live events on TV. By following live-tweets with a #hashtag, you can be watching alone in your pajamas but feel like you’re at a party with thousands of fellow fans who are making interesting observations and comments.

That being said, there’s an important rule for live-tweeting any event — if it’s on TV and being watched by millions, DO NOT TWEET A PLAY-BY-PLAY. Posting “I can’t believe she won that award!” or “And Otis Spunkmeyer passes it to Scrooge McDuck, who scores and puts the Lone Rangers on top” serves no value to a nationally televised event considering other people can watch the same thing — its redundant and annoying. Use Twitter to add a third dimension to the game or show by posting original content or unique reactions.

With that in mind, I started live-tweeting Syracuse University basketball games with #lipreading tweets of what players and coaches, especially Jim Boeheim, are saying when the TV shows close-ups of their faces. Since there’s no audio from them in those shots, I’m adding an extra element to the game that viewers who aren’t deaf and hard-of-hearing likely can’t follow.

I got the idea for specifically focusing on tweeting lipreading (or lip reading, speechreading) from a German deaf woman, Julia Probst, who reads the lips of soccer players and coaches during matches and tweets them, providing fans with a running dialogue that they would otherwise not be privy to. It’s made me enjoy sports more and I hope to continue it with Orange football this fall and other teams I’m a fan of, like the Boston Celtics, New England Patriots and the Boston Red Sox.

Some examples of lipreading live-tweets I’ve posted:

  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “That’s a flagrant…” after Rutgers fouled Dion Waiters #GoOrange #BeatRutgers
  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “Are you kidding me? … [not nice words] Come on, Brandon!” #GoOrange #BeatWVU
  • CJ Fair clearly said “F***, man” after he was fouled. He looks WAY too young for that kind of language. #lipreading #babyface
  • #Lipreading Jim Boeheim: “Listen. LISTEN! You can’t be fouling like that…” to SU’s Rakeem Christmas #GoOrange #BeatWVU.

Everyone can lipread a little bit, whether they realize it or not — being hard-of-hearing, I did speech therapy as a kid so I could understand speech (as well as speak it better). Lipreading is simply the visual interpretation of the movements of the lips, face and tongue. Without hearing aids, I’m 90% deaf but with lipreading, context and residual hearing I can follow conversations pretty well most of the time.

If you can’t lipread, don’t feel bad — just add something different when live-tweeting an event. Give people a reason to follow you on Twitter.

A few additional notes on lipreading or speechreading:

  • So many sounds and shapes look exactly the same, which means only about 30 to 40 percent of speech is accurately visible. “Get the mail” and “Catch the pail” look very similar, for example, and obviously have completely different meanings. Oftentimes, lipreading is only accurate with context (such as listening with hearing aids) and/or visual cues. For example, if a basketball player just made a bad play, you know the coach is more likely to say “That was stupid, don’t do that” than “Taco soup is delicious.”
  • When communicating with a deaf/HOH person, face them and speak clearly and naturally. People change the way they talk all the time — resting your chin on your hand affects speech, as does gum, mustaches, tongue-piercings, talking out of the side of your mouth, etc. Also, when people talk faster or slower it makes it harder to lipread and, when people yell, their mouths get wider and it becomes very difficult to see what they are saying. (Translation: Shouting at deaf people doesn’t help them understand you.) It’s very difficult to read lips on a person’s face/mouth that’s constantly moving or is facing in another direction, too.
  • While many references to hard-of-hearing in comedy lean offensive (i.e. the basketball coach near the beginning of “Van Wilder”) lipreading can be very funny. Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to win the Academy Award for Best Actress, starred in a “Seinfeld” episode as a tennis lineswoman who dates Jerry and helps George lipread another woman’s conversation from across the room while Kramer interprets for her in sign language. She thought they said “Let’s sleep together” when they said “Let’s sweep together” — which actually isn’t a likely mistake for a deaf person to make as “sw” and “sl” form very different mouth shapes, but was still a funny example of how a subtle misinterpretation can change an entire conversation’s meaning. For more outrageous (though unlikely) lipreading mistakes, check out “Bad Lip Reading.”