Correcting the Internet? Can we push our own corrections?

Unfortunate RTs, wrong names, misspellings. Errors happen all the time, and in some cases (me), entirely too often. But what do we do about that, once it has happened?

On Facebook, you can delete a post. But I’m not sure that people, especially those who manage their accounts through things like HootSuite, don’t end up seeing those erroneous posts well after we’ve removed them. On Twitter, you can definitely delete a tweet, but again, you cannot remove it from places that take snapshots of Twitter for reference.

And all of these methods of correcting your work seem to be trying to put a genie back in the bottle, regardless. Zeynep Tufekci ( @techsoc ) faced this problem with a recent errant tweet about the new pope’s (apparently fake) Twitter account:

 1- I can delete the erroneous tweet. That would also “disappear” the retweets but it would not alert the retweeters that I had deleted it. How would they know something in their past timeline was now gone? It would be an unknown unknown to them—they wouldn’t know that they don’t know I corrected it. It would also disappear the record of my error—not a big deal in my case but there is reason to think that keeping a record of errors is healthier for journalism.

2- I can keep issuing corrections in the hopes that everyone who retweeted my original tweet will see it. Odds of success? My experiments say very little. People dip in and out of streams so corrections don’t always get seen.

3-I can “mention” everyone who retweeted my erroneous tweet—poke them in the eye with the correction, so to speak. I can also urge them to “retweet” my correction so that their network who saw the error in their own timeline can also see the correction.

Her solution: push updates to let people know you made a mistake. This means that, when you want to issue a correction, Twitter sends that corrected tweet to everybody who retweeted or commented on it.

As admirable as her need to correct herself is, push updates aren’t the way to go. The thing is: what qualifies for a push update? A minor correction to a local story? A spelling mistake?

These aren’t small problems. But they potentially make for huge problems if people start pushing updates for the smallest reasons – or worse, use that push vehicle for spam. Of course, they’ll do it! Get you to RT something and then hit you and all your socially-gullible friends with ads for dick pills.

I’ve had this discussion ad infinitum on Twitter since starting there. For all of us who are trying to send a message to a wider audience, accuracy is important and even stupid spelling mistakes are painful. To say nothing of big gaps in fact-checking.

But unfortunately, the best you can do is be a reliable source and correct as you go. That doesn’t stop your erroneous tweet from traveling the globe, but at least those who rely on you regularly know you’re trying to do better the next time.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.