Date: Thursday, August 23, 2012
It’s been said, “News breaks on Twitter." But what if the ‘news’ is wrong?
It was last Saturday morning. The first Saturday in several weeks I wasn’t out of town or at a family function. Because I was playing with sprinklers and digging in the yard, I missed an early morning text notification. A couple hours later, I looked at my phone screen and saw a series of tweets that had started about 8:30 a.m. The tweet said:
@BoisePD Is it true a teenage child w/Autism was found in Boise & unable to provide info on parents, home address & you are asking for help?
Because I’d missed the notification from my phone and hadn’t responded, the individual decided to tweet:
Urgent child w/autism by the name "Raymond" been found by @BoisePD. Call (208) XXX-XXXX if you know where his parents are. Pls RT #autism
Within the next few minutes, about a dozen others had retweeted the “urgent” news and plea for help that appeared to have come from the department.
In reality, a severely autistic teen had been found by officers about 2:30 that morning. Thankfully officers were able to get enough information to reunite the young man with his family by about 8:00 a.m. However, at some point, someone posted information that was only partially complete on a Web site that the citizen had seen and began tweeting as “urgent”. When I saw the tweet and found out the story behind it, I quickly responded that all was well. We received several “thank you’s” in response.
Twitter rumors are so common now, there are several Twitter accounts set up just to track rumors in everything from Washington politics to Major League Baseball, to who is dead and who isn’t. Some Twitter rumors have had serious consequences, as in early August, 2012 when Mashable reported a Twitter death rumor leads to spike in oil prices
. If you believed Twitter in February 2012, a team of ninja assassins killed off North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un
, only to find he was alive and well and voting in Chicago. (2)
For local law enforcement, Twitter rumors can not only spread misinformation, but needlessly fear and alarm. I took a call from a local reporter a few months ago who had seen a tweet that Boise City Hall was on fire. A couple quick phone calls later and I found the reality was there had been a fire drill at city hall in a neighboring city.
Text notifications via Twitter every time your user name is mentioned can let you know real time what people are saying about or asking you. It’s easy to set them up. Go to your Settings, then to Mobile, then to Text Notifications. I’d suggest checking:
• Tweets from people you’ve enabled for mobile notifications.
• Direct messages.
• Mentions and replies from anyone.
You can also turn off the notifications during sleep hours, like from midnight to 6:00 a.m.
Twitter is a great tool to keep track of what’s breaking and what’s “buzzing” in your community. It’s also a great tool to stomp out rumors quickly – as long as you know about them! If you’re not taking advantage of the Twitter text notifications on your mobile, you may be limiting your ability to quash rumors before they start.