Twitter, credibility, and truth

20 March 2010

If a falsity is repeated sufficiently, it becomes the truth. This seems to be what has happened to the supposed story about extra-marital relationships that both President Sarkozy and Ms Bruni were having. As far as it can be surmised, this news item was a complete fabrication or a product of pure imagination, but it was reported widely as if it were attributable story from a reliable source.

With Twitter, such unfounded gossip can be repeated manifold in a matter of minutes and hours. Retweeting is easy with a push of a button, and many people won’t do even the most cursory checking of facts. So it will be repeated and repeated. At some point, such news is picked up by a person (e.g. a journalist) or a company (e.g. a newspaper), who is deemed as reputable and responsible. When it is reported in other media as well as in Twitter, it becomes the truth. For some people, no amount of denial will suffice to convince them to the contrary. Instead, denial will be seen, somewhat perversely, as the confirmation of the fact.

Twitter’s democracy – or anarchism – is its strength but also weakness, where falsehood and conspiracy theories can gain currency. Readers beware: not everything in Twitter is factual or true. Well, most of us know this, but the question is when, how and where to stop something getting out of control.