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Tuesday, 29th June 2010

A Real World Example: Why Info Literacy is So Important & Don't Believe Everything You Read ( Even on Twitter (-: )

If you haven't heard this story yet, get ready it's a good one. If you have, perhaps our post will add a few facts or things to think about.

The first words that comes to mind are meltdown, where were the editors, and this will be a great story to share with others.

Our journalists are being taught and then using the critical info skills and digital literacy skills they learned in journalism school? If journalists aren't learning and not USING these skills then what about other professions. Info literacy and critical info skills are an essential part of journalism? Let's not start by blaming the j-schools are least at this point since someone could be have a rigorous education in critical information/digital literacy and then in pursuit of the big story, the scoop, they just don't use them.

Newspapers/news web sites depend on accurate reporting. Of course, mistakes will be made and hopefully corrected but in this age of instantaneous global distribution it's probably a good idea to check, double check and if possible GO TO THE SOURCE. Plus, stories like the ones that follow don't help the already ailing newspaper business.

OK, here we go.

The Story

Sometime on Saturday afternoon/evening (U.S. time) a reporter named named Richard Ashmore at the Daily Mail (a widely-read newspaper and news web site in the UK, based in London) was most likely taking some time and looking at his Twitter feed(s) or was told to look at a specific tweet.

He then sees that a tweet from Steve Jobs is on Twitter and the Apple CEO (Is it really him) is talking about a possible unexpected recall of the iPhone 4. You can see the actual tweet on this NextWeb screenshot.

Now, it all begins to fall apart.

Mr. Ashmore unaware that this is a fake or parody Steve Jobs account, writes a story for the Daily Mail about this possible recall. What's a bit shocking is the entire story is based on the tweet from the fake Steve Jobs Twitter account and the reporter or editors did nothing to see if this Twitter account and the info it was accurate.

1. Why didn't Mr. Ashmore do any research and see what else he could learn about the post and the ceostevejobs Twitter account? We don't think it would have taken him (or his editors) long to determine something wasn't right.

2. Did he look at the bio on the fake Twitter page? It sure doesn't read like what a CEO of any corporation would say.

3. Did he read any of the other posts in the Twitter timeline? Many of these posts read more like The Onion than a blog from a CEO. Recent tweets down the page from the false "recall" tweet include:

+ To prevent signal problems with the new iPhone, avoid touching the phone at all times.

+ "I heard the CEO of AT&T got married recently. The service was great but the reception was terrible."

+ "The unshaven unemployed population is starting to line up at Apple stores. Ugh, go stand outside a FedEx sort facility."

Very funny stuff that you might think would make Mr. Ashmore wonder (along with his editors) if this was really Steve Jobs. We guess this didn't happen.

4. Did he notice that the account wasn't a verified account? This doesn't necessarily mean it wasn't really Mr. Jobs but it should have signaled that more research had to be done.

5. If he would have done some searching about verified accounts he might have come across this Shuffle Magazine article from May, 2010 that discusses the topic and even mentions the specific parody/fake account* that Mr. Ashmore and his editors took as legit.

6. A January, 2010 article we found in just a few minutes of searching mentions that Steve Jobs doesn't tweet. Btw, since this incident several have confirmed this fact. Bill Gates does use Twitter and he HAS a verified account.

* Again, we're not aware of Shuffle Magazine and if it's a reliable publication. It looks legit but even then, just seeing ceostevejobs is a parody account would ring several more bells and make us continue our research. By now, we would start to think seriously that this was really not the actual CEO.

7. According to Next Web, the Daily Mail is the second largest paper in the UK (both weekdays and Sunday ) and it's very likely that they have access to Apple's press people in the UK or U.S. to confirm or deny this type of thing. Did he check to see if he could contact an Apple spokesperson? It still was Saturday afternoon in Cupertino. Btw, the Daily Mail web site is also the most popular newspaper site in the UK.

8. What happened to the editors at the Daily Mail? Did they have any idea of what Mr. Ashmore's source was? Did they ask him if he verified the info with a source other than a tweet? Apparently not. The two sentence tweet is what the entire story is based on.

More After a Click

What We Learned

So, if you ever need an example or reminder about how the lack or research and verification can cause havoc, this is a text-book example. It also illustrates that you need to read carefully and perhaps verify key facts using more than one source and if possible try to get to the source either by sending an email, making a call, or at least checking the web.

The actual Daily Mail article has been taken offline butNextWeb has a copy here and the complete page here.

The Story Lives On

Even though The Daily Mail has taken the article offline a search on Google for the headline of the original article, "Apple Boss Steve Jobs Reveals iPhone 4 May Be Recalled," finds both stories that report on the poor reporting but also articles that either link to the Daily Mail story or simply repeat the incorrect story. No one is forcing the site owner to update the content. So, another example to make sure you carefully review your results. You can also find plenty of tweets repeating the headline. Again, many eventually end up at the now removed Daily Mail story, but it could still can cause confusion.

Bottom Line?

The BEST DEFENSE IS KNOWLEDGE and EXCELLENT critical and digital info literacy skills

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