Why You Should Stop Trusting Twitter

Update: By request, I’ve added a few more details about how this whole thing originated.

Though we’ve only had it for a few years, it’s already hard to picture a world without Twitter. The simple social network is the Information Age equivalent of crack, allowing us instant access to thoughts and facts from millions of people all across the world. Almost every piece of news breaks on Twitter first. Sometimes, during particularly embarrassing lapses of judgement, news breaks because of Twitter. This one simple website gives us an unprecedented level of access to the world.

There’s just one problem with Twitter: People are stupid.

This story starts Monday, the day the NFL lockout ended. The Internet was buzzing with rumors at 10pm, when undrafted college players could begin officially negotiating with NFL teams.

On a message board I frequent, one user (Matt Elliott) made a fake tweet about linebacker Mark Herzlich joining the Baltimore Ravens. Another user (Chris Field) believed the lie and posted it on Twitter, where it was retweeted by @NEPatriotsDraft. When Field realized he had been duped, it was too late — the damage had already been done.

Following this, somebody who calls himself @NFLDraftInsider picked it up and spread it to his thousands of followers.

Curious about NFLDraftInsider and his trigger-happy tendencies, I decided to check his page out. It seemed as if he was firing off rumors with no qualms or reservations, no matter where they came from. He didn’t cite sources or look for confirmation on anything. Exacerbating this issue was the fact that several legitimate NFL reporters were retweeting and repeating his statements, some of which might have had absolutely no basis in reality, like the rumor about Herzlich.

So I decided to run a little experiment.

Using my alternate Twitter account, which has 30 followers and no tweets, I made up a rumor about quarterback Pat Devlin joining the Arizona Cardinals and sent it to NFLDraftInsider. Thirty seconds later, he repeated it. No citations, no credits, no fact-checking. Just an echo of what I said.

“So wait a minute?” you might be asking. “Some random guy who calls himself a draft insider is repeating bullshit rumors with no sources? Who cares?”

Good question. CBS cared.

Then SBNation cared.

Then the Arizona Cardinals’ official website cared.

Deadspin cared, too, when I sent them part of this story yesterday.

I started a few more rumors about players, all of which were promptly picked up by our Draft Insider buddy. And again, some of them were picked up by legitimate reporters. Damn shame.

But wait — there’s more! Not content with the damage I’d caused so far, I decided to test out the limits of NFLDraftInsider’s journalistic integrity.

By making up a player.

There is no Matt Kessler. Also, Binghamton doesn’t have a football team.

Keep up the good work, NFLDraftInsider. The world of sports media needs more folks like you.

Note: Some of the time stamps on Twitter reflect different time zones (and/or random Twitter bugs), and may therefore seem incorrect. The timeline of events above is accurate.

Some other Twitter users also reported duping @NFLDraftInsider with misinformation and fake names, including Timothy Saunders and Andrew Tabach.

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37 thoughts on “Why You Should Stop Trusting Twitter

  1. JustinCarone

    While I agree with your overall point, and this is certainly a pretty cogent example of populaces’ tendency to believe anything they read, the headline at least is a little hyperbolic and misleading. This problem has little to do with Twitter in and of itself. Tabloids in the United States have been pulling this same thing for decades. Stories with little to no substance or sources being published as undeniable truths. Hell, it even comes from a number of our more respected news organizations.

    My point being, the real problem is with the gullible public and a frightening lack of journalistic integrity, not Twitter. What happened to having multiple independent sources? What happened to having even a small degree of skepticism in the information you are provided? In a perfect world we would be able to find truly trustworthy news organizations that we could come to rely on to thoroughly vet the information they publish before doing so. Instead we have companies, and individuals, trying to get the big story out first to get the greatest number of viewers, sacrificing quality journalism in the process. It would also be nice to believe people weren’t quite so ready to gobble up any scrap of information tossed their way expecting some sort of knowledge nutrients when they are really just getting shit.

  2. Dave

    You should have tried making up an NFL team. Something like, “@NFLDraftInsider Just heard Mark Herzlich to the Seattle Cardinals.” I wonder what would’ve happened.

  3. Dave G

    The bulk of the info was legit. I followed all night monday and was very pleased with the outstanding amount of info that was put out by this guy. No one else put a fourth of the info out that he did. It was Twitter l, not Sportscenter. Lighyten up and kuddos to a job (not perfect) but well done.

  4. brad

    I’m not sure if you are a football enthusiast or just concerned with journalism’s place in the wake of social media.
    Either way, with 300+ undrafted college prospects all working on deals with professional teams, fans are simply looking for information at an incredible rate. It is highly unfathomable for one twitter account to have heard of all 2085 prospects who are technically “undrafted free agents”.
    As a fan, I was only interested in skimming through the names of prominent players to see where they would end up. 100% authenticity of these reports means little to nothing when their is such a high volume of information being processed, specifically late Monday night.
    Fans are simply looking for a medium where news is aggregated and weather thats twitter, a forum, or a blog, simply makes no difference.
    This twitter account, NFLdraftinsider, was primarily a stream of information that pertained to every NFL team. Instead of navigating through countless websites all the information I was interested in was being delivered to me through each twitter post.

    Also as a dolphin fan I don’t appreciate the Pat Devlin misinformation.

  5. MiamiDolphans

    Isn’t that what Florio did until he started getting paychecks from NBCSports? Or is Terry Bradshaw still dead?

  6. MichaelEdits

    Why did I have to click that I like this post? I would rather click that I love this post.

    My tweet was that the Eagles are definitely interested in Favre… They haven’t signed him yet but they’ve already added him to their injury list. Nobody picked that one up. Aw shoot.

    Matt Kessler is the greatest CB of all time! Shutdown corner, baby! So much better than Darrelle Revis.

  7. Jon Drummond

    So twitter is a LIE? Tell that to the NCAA so those college players who tweeted about a party can get their games they missed back. Your article is just jumping to extremes. No one blasts off when ESPN or CNN gives miss info (which happens daily). The wealth of info on twitter is very good. So hey!

  8. John

    I think it’s great that you call out @NFLDraftInsider for his trigger happy ways, but did you bother to ask Matt Elliot why he made HIS fake tweet up? Dude apparently has a lot of free time on his hands.

  9. jim larrison

    Brilliant post! I wish traditional journalists did this much for a story.

    I agree with most of the comments. Twitter is just the channel for misinformation, not the cause.

    I do think twitter has a compounding effect on tradtitional media trying to keep up and break stories. In the past breaking a story was limited to big media, thus they only had to compete with themselves. Now they compete with every joe online for info and stories.

  10. kunzelman

    This isn’t a problem with Twitter, though. The problem that you call “people are stupid” I would call “people don’t fact check,” but it all comes out to the same thing. I love twitter–I think it’s a great tool for aggregating things and information that I care about, like this post, for instance.

    But that isn’t a reason to demonize twitter. What we should be doing, and, frankly, what I think you have an obligation to do as a journalist, is encouraging fact checking. We live in a world where checking your facts takes all of thirty seconds. So yeah, that DraftInsider is an idiot, but he is really just an aggregator of information; he is allowed to be wrong. He is not an organization that has years of journalistic integrity and trust under its belt. CBS, however, does have that reputation, and it’s not cool that a journalist at CBS would blindly trust a random on twitter.

    In any case, this isn’t a case of “twitter trust,” it’s a case of journalists not doing their jobs.

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  13. eric

    I think the lesson here is not that Twitter is bad, but that one should exercise a healthy degree of skepticism regarding any tweet that isn’t verified by multiple sources. I know what you’re saying but I would hesitate to judge the worth of an entire social networking site based on one relatively insignificant, rapid-fire sporting news event. As others have mentioned, the nature of an NFL draft, with the vast amount of candidates involved, makes it inevitable that some misinformation will trickle in, whether accidentally (as in most cases) or maliciously (as in your case).

    I have no problem with @NFLDraftInsider serving as an aggregator of unverified draft-related information. Anyone who follows a source like that should know the info is mostly hearsay. The problem, which I believe is what you’re saying, is when established news organizations take unverified tweets and treat them as confirmed truths, thus creating a vast echo chamber of dubious information. Professional journalists should know better.

  14. Sean O

    What I get from this is….you’re an idiot for lying…and CBS and real sports websites are idiots for not doing the fact checking as legit operations.

    The NFLDraftInsider’s Twitter page is basically saying, “I’m retweeting everything I hear, these are rumors.”

    Sadly, he’s actually the most honest in this bizarre scenario.

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  16. Ron S

    So you blatantly lie to trick @NFLDraftInsider and he’s the one that doesn’t have credibility? That’s some real intelligent reporting there. 95% of what he’s reported is correct. A few mistakes is the price you pay for up to the second information. I’ll continue to follow him.

  17. MBonheim

    But wait, aren’t you more than half of the problem here? You are the one starting all the bullshit rumors.

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  19. Ultra-Humanite

    So people believed your false twitters for all of about an hour before actual news was received. I can really see the grave damage being done there. Not to mention that most of the false twitters I see come from you as I have been aware of this idiocy for some time. Congratulations on winning Douchebag of the Week.

  20. duck

    My favorite part is that in the screenshots of his tweets, he is listed as “Jared Tokarz.”

    Now, it simply says “Jared T.”

    That’s a pretty heavy indictment on what rumor-mongering can do to one’s credibility.

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  24. tarotworldtour

    People must be aware that the Library of Congress has begun archiving all tweets from 2006 onward, so whatever we say is going to be immortalized there. We have to be wary of technologically recorded details, as I often write here.

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  27. kuan

    I think you have rightly point it out that it is the stupid human that makes twitter unreliable. Anyway, always do some research before retweeting or start to believe in what other people have to say. Human beings are curious but unfortunately, some are just plain no brainer.

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