When false news spreads: Has Twitter become one giant version of the ‘telephone’ game?

We’ve all played the telephone game at one point when we were kids. One kid says “My aunt Sally usually likes to bake cookies using lots of sugar,” and by the time it gets to the 12th kid it’s become “My aunt Sally makes cookies with sugar and chocolate chips.” It’s a very human behavior, and sometimes the meaning is still intact, but… have you noticed news reporting, especially on a social medium limited to only 140 characters, has become sloppy?

First of all, fake celebrity deaths is a separate problem. We see a famous person’s name trending on Twitter and, morbidly, half of us assume the person has died without even checking to see what people are saying. If you do actually click to see what “William Shatner” tweets are saying, half of them are saying “Why is William Shatner trending?” and most of the rest will say “William Shatner is 80 – happy birthday, Captain Kirk!” But there’ll be a few that say “RIP William Shatner” and that will spread.

The real issue with “telephone” news is that a rumor quickly becomes fact without any proof or change, except in the flow of information from one person to the next.

On Monday, ONE source had claimed Katie Couric was “thinking” about leaving CBS Evening News since her contract is up in June. By Monday night, everyone had reported on it and moved on and said “I can’t believe Katie Couric quit” and “Now that Katie Couric has confirmed she’s leaving CBS Evening News, who should replace her?”

False. No one had confirmed anything.

But that’s the telephone game. “Source says” and “confirmed” are two different things, people. It’s more exciting to say you’ve confirmed something than “report claims” or any other softer approach. Plus, we’re often so excited at “big” news that we like to be the first to tell our friends, so often we’ll retweet or add our own $.02 without confirming anything or even bothering to read past one headline.

Are we victims of our own human nature to spread false information on the Internet? Speaking especially as a hard-of-hearing person, I’ve noticed that we often hear what we want to hear and interpret it in our own way. Then when we relay the information, the facts change. Sometimes slightly, sometimes completely.

News media has always been more interested in being FIRST than being correct, and the Internet has perpetuated that incredibly in the SEO and SMO game. Plus, if you post a false story on your Twitter or your blog, all you have to do to correct it later is other post something new or just edit the original story. Tempting, I know, but please… check your facts before you spread news.

Top 11 Twitter Misconceptions and Misuses

Twitter is the third-most popular social networking site today. There’s a lot of people who are still new to it, so I understand. I’m here to help. These are the 11 biggest misconceptions and misuses of Twitter that I’ve seen and experienced.

1. You’re not a “social media expert”
Wow, you have a Twitter page. That doesn’t make you an expert in anything. You have a lot of followers? Great. Charlie Sheen got 1 million followers in just a day, but he’s not a social media expert; he’s just a famous person who says crazy stuff. The minute he tries to sell something on Twitter (and he will), you’ll see the true value of his influence. I think it’s ridiculous to consider yourself an expert in something that’s constantly changing, but if you must, back it up with a strong social media presence (that means real influence, not a Klout score or how many followers you have) and lots of experience.

2. Resist the urge to immediately complain about a business #fail
Yes, it’s 2011, and every business should be on social media, prepared to respond to customer complaints. But keep in mind, the best way to get customer service is to actually complain to a person when you’re still at the business. If the supermarket doesn’t have what you’re looking for, tell the manager and they can explain or at least tell you when the next shipment will be in. If a restaurant screwed up your order, tell the waitress, don’t tweet it. If they still continue to #fail after that, then share it. Otherwise you’re just complaining to complain and/or a power-hungry weasel trying to get freebies.

3. Twitter Chat
While I don’t think Twitter is designed for “chat,” I do see the value in creating a chat hashtag so other people can easily join the conversation from anywhere in the Twitterverse. Keep in mind, if you’re overly chatty, you’re going to aggravate people who don’t want to see the chat conversation and (probably) lose followers that enjoyed what you were saying the other six days of the week. Minimize that aggravation by NOT retweeting more than one or two really good chat points (and they better be damn good), and start your tweets with @username when responding to other people so regular followers don’t see them. Don’t worry, other people will still see those tweets, because they’re following the #chathashtag. Duh, that’s why you set up a hashtag.

4. Live-tweeting
Like Twitter Chat, be prepared to lose followers. Not everyone wants to use Twitter the way you do. Three rules for live-tweeting: 1, don’t just describe what you’re seeing – say something original or interesting; 2, use a hashtag so people can block it if they choose; and 3, only live-tweet a live event (what’s the point of live-tweeting “Glee” or a sitcom?).

5. 50,000 followers does NOT equal 50,000 people reading everything you say
“No one’s listening!” “Why isn’t anybody tweeting me?” No, your Twitter is not broken. Don’t assume everyone’s just dying to respond to everything you say, and whining about it will just make us resent you even more. Most people I see with 50,000 followers are following 60,000 people — a lot of people have this “if you follow me, I’ll follow you” attitude but don’t actually interact. This is a prime example of how a lot of followers doesn’t equal influence.

6. You’re talking, but not listening
If all you’re doing is posting tweets, but not responding to @replies or tweeting other people, then you’ve missed the point of social media. (Hint: It’s to be social.) Also, if you’ve been on Twitter for more than six months and you’re still following more people than are following you, that’s a sign that you’re not listening.

7. “Exclusive” and “breaking” are outdated – stop using those words.
“Exclusive” and “breaking” are old media terms. Three minutes after your “exclusive” interview appears anywhere, Huffington Post has already re-purposed it and 437 blogs, 92 television stations, and 162 radio stations have the same interview. Further, the speed of share has changed the meaning of “breaking news.” Fifty years ago, Walter Cronkite could say something was breaking three days after it happened, and everyone would accept it. Now, as soon as news “breaks” on Twitter, it’s already broken. Everyone already knows it, and if you claim something’s breaking six hours later, it’s just annoying.

8. A twitpic’s worth a thousand words.
You only have 140 characters, so if you’re describing something you saw, take a picture of it. It’ll get the point across faster and better. “Gross, there’s a fly in my burger” isn’t as interesting as an actual picture of it. Plus, a lot of us need to see it to believe it.

9. Trending Topics
“If you tweet it, they will follow.” Some people think mentioning a trending topic in a tweet will get them followers. Worse, they’ll ask “Why is Urkel trending?” which will just make it trend even more without contributing to the conversation. Also, while big news makes trending topics, not all TTs are actual news – I see this a lot especially in the afternoon, when British people are surprised/excited that some 90’s movie is on TV.

10. Fake News
Mick Jagger’s not dead. Neither is Sinbad, Jeff Goldblum or any other celebrity that you’ve read about on Twitter. Worse, this news gets spread further by people tweeting it because “RIP Matt Damon” shows up as a trending topic. Twitter’s like any other media — only believe it if it comes from a credible source (i.e. @CNN.)

11. Can’t say it in 140 characters? Don’t say it on Twitter.
Clerks director Kevin Smith commits this crime a lot, so I stopped following him. Some “social media experts” tried claiming Tumblr is the new Twitter, when that’s not true – Tumblr is for posting stuff that you can’t say in 140 characters. You keep it short and sweet, but you can’t make it short enough? Blog it.

Charlie Sheen gets one million Twitter followers in 24 hours – the fastest ever to reach the mark

@CharlieSheen on Twitter

“I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available, because if you try it once, you will die and your children will weep over your exploded body. Too much?”

Charlie Sheen’s Twitter account is powered by tiger blood, battle-tested bayonets and a drug called Charlie Sheen — and he is WINNING.

The “Two and a Half Men” actor’s very first tweet was Tuesday, March 1st at 6:43 p.m. EST. It was a picture of him and one of his “goddesses.”

The insanity has spread at blinding speed. At 6:43 p.m. Wednesday, 24 hours later, Sheen’s account had 996,395 followers.

A few minutes later, he passed the one million mark. Boom!

The previous fastest to hit one million, to my knowledge, was @Oprah, who took 28 days (from April 16, 2009 to May 14, 2009) to reach the mark. She joined when Ashton Kutcher showed her how the micro-blogging social site worked, a day before Mr. @aplusk beat @cnnbrk to be the first Twitter account to hit one million followers.

Fastest people to reach 1,000,000 Twitter followers:
1. Charlie Sheen (24 hours, 3/1/11-3/2/11)
2. Oprah (28 days, 4/16/09-5/14/09)
3. Kanye West (80 days, 7/28/10-10/15/10)
4. Conan O’Brien (90 days, 2/25/10-5/25/10)
5. Ashton Kutcher (92 days, 1/16/09-4/17/09)
6. LeBron James (97 days, 7/6/10~11/10/10)

According to Twitaholic, there’s just over 300 Twitter accounts with over one million followers. Who’s the most influential? You could argue Lady Gaga (8.5 million followers) and Justin Bieber (7.8 million followers) but neither of them have created such a stir in such a short amount of time.

Sheen’s crazy rants and beyond-out-there interviews have fueled a limitless collection of Internet memes and viral spinoffs, including:
New Yorker cartoons based on Charlie Sheen quotes
Superheroes using Charlie Sheen quotes for dialogue
Charlie Sheen soundboard (audio)
Cats quoting Charlie Sheen
Bunnies quoting Charlie Sheen
Charlie Sheen Book of Poetry
Sheen Family Circus: Family Circus with a dose of the drug called Charlie Sheen
Charlie Brown / Charlie Sheen mashup by Jimmy Kimmel
Charlie Sheen crazy rant quotes inserted in Charlie Sheen movies & shows
Cleen Sheen (the kid-friendly version of Charlie Sheen’s rants)
Live the Sheen Dream (random quote generator)

Maybe Charlie Sheen will use this media frenzy and newfound Twitter popularity to win back his role on “Two and a Half Men,” or maybe he’ll do something else entirely. Like get psychiatric help. Only time will tell, and Charlie’s got the watch that keeps Warlock time.

“Here’s looking at you, Kid-N-Play.” Play the #Oscars #Grammys #mashup Game!

"I'll get you my pretty, and your little Snoop Dogg too!" #Oscars #Grammys #mashup

Let’s play a fun game!

Since the Oscars were last night (and they were boring, from what I hear – I didn’t even bother watching) let’s play a game! Mashup your favorite movie quote with a famous artist! Here’s a few to get you started:

“Nobody puts Babyface in a corner.”
“Goonies never say Diana Ross!”
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could Missy Elliott.”
“I’m B.B. King of the world!”
“Here’s looking at you, Kid-N-Play.”

Share yours on Twitter with #Oscars #Grammys #mashup or leave a comment below with yours! If you include @deafgeoff if your tweet I’ll add them to this blog later :)

Syracuse Tweetup on Friday, July 15 – who’s in?

Twttr, a LiveJournal-inspired micro-blogging project, was finished March 13, 2006. A week later, @jack had posted the first message: “just setting up my twttr.” It took a year just to get 20,000 users, but in 140 characters (or less) the site grew to be what is today the third-most popular social networking site in the world, with over 200 million accounts.

So let’s celebrate.

Twitter (as Twttr later became known) went public on July 15, 2006 — let’s celebrate that 5th anniversary with a Syracuse Tweetup on Friday, July 15th, 2011. Continue reading