What does Twitter hacking indicate about journalism today?

Apr 26 2013 - 10:44pm


Last year, an audience task force for Sandusky Newspaper Group, the parent company of the Standard-Examiner, came up with a list of best practices for news employees using social media. One of the practices was not to use Facebook and Twitter as vehicles to disseminate news. Instead we use social media to promote and link to news and other content available on newspaper-owned websites.

One of the reasons for this practice was to direct audience to the platforms where the newspapers sell their own advertising around content, rather than someone else doing it on a social media site. Another reason was to allow for the news content to be posted on a secure website where there was some institutional editorial control.

This meant someone else would view the content before it was posted and it would have tampering protection.

The recent hacking of the Associated Press Twitter feed shows just how vulnerable social media platforms are for spreading rumors and misinformation.

I was standing in the newsroom talking with another editor when a reporter showed me his smartphone and the tweet on the AP account that reported there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Barack Obama was injured. The television news was on behind me, and I turned around and noticed there was no such incident being reported. The other editor called up the AP website and noticed there was no story there.

We concluded in a matter of minutes that the AP's Twitter account had been hacked.

But in today's world, news cycles are measured in minutes, and sometimes seconds, rather than the old 24-hour period revolving around print deadlines and nightly television news.

Within 20 minutes, the AP moved a story that its Twitter account and mobile Twitter account had been suspended following a hack. But not before the false tweet sent the Dow Jones industrial average plunging. The Dow fell 143 points, from 14,697 to 14,554, after the fake Twitter posting, and then quickly recovered.

The episode highlights the automated hair-trigger nature of today's markets that makes everyone vulnerable to misinformation.

Analytical software sifts through millions of tweets and social media posts for instant news, automatically ordering trades without any human oversight.

Scary. The next stock market crash could be fueled by such misinformation.

The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for the hack because it believes the AP has been sympathetic to the rebels in their country. The FBI is investigating.

I was talking later in the week with AP's regional director in Denver about the incident, and he made the observation that the good news is that the reaction from Wall Street showed that news organizations are still relevant.

OPINIONATORS: I am happy to report that I have received more than 20 applications for our at-large community seat on the newspaper's editorial board.

The applications included stay-at-home moms, retirees and former elected officials.

The plan is for us to weed down the applicants to three and then call them in for interviews before the board. The deadline for applications will be Tuesday.

Some applicants volunteered that they were conservative or liberal, but how much that plays in their selection will be up to the individual board members.

We are mostly interested in people who want to work for the betterment of their communities.

Andy Howell is executive editor. He can be reached at 801-625-4210 or ahowell@standard.net.


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