Why social media #fails happen: The BBC, #BringBackOurGirls and accuracy

The #BringBackOurGirls tweet

The #BringBackOurGirls tweet

Earlier this month, reports the Guardian, the BBC Trending blog tweeted “a photo of a girl who was not Nigerian” as part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.

The use of the incorrect photo caused “a great deal of strain and anxiety in the newsroom that prides itself on its accuracy. Of course we make mistakes and we work extremely hard not to.” said the BBC’s James Harding, at the London Social Media Summit.

Harding also said that the BBC takes rivals Buzzfeed and Vice seriously “you spend a lot of time watching and studying them and learning … we’ve a great deal to learn from our competitors.”

It’s not really fair to single out the BBC for accuracy errors on Twitter (a quick scan of the Guardian article, mentioned above, reveals three typos), but it is a handy illustration.

We’ll be seeing more of these “social media fails” because there’s a tension between “traditional” news values and the realities of social sharing in 2014.

Established newsrooms may pride themselves on accuracy, but Re-Tweets and Likes are often seen as the new currency.

The issue is: It’s the stories that are too neat, too good to check, that get a viral amount of social sharing. It’s the photo that confirms preconceptions that gets re-tweeted.

The audience on social platforms “Share first, ask questions later”. Only a minority care about news values and accuracy.

Websites that depend on sharing, such as Buzzfeed, have always published overly neat narratives. “In fact, the mistakes, and the falsehoods, and the hoaxes are a big part of a business plan driven by the belief that big traffic absolves all sins, that success is a primary virtue”.

The BBC could be seen as out of step with a social media audience that doesn’t really care about its cherished editorial guidelines.

To tackle this perception, they’re experimenting with news packaged for social platforms, and creating daily news infographics. Here is the first example, just announced by Chris Hamilton – Social Media Editor for BBC News. Note the use of the picture, statistic and question – all included to prompt re-tweets – and to drive visitors back to the BBC website:

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One Response to Why social media #fails happen: The BBC, #BringBackOurGirls and accuracy

  1. Ciaran Ryan October 30, 2014 at 11:18 pm #

    Or as NYT puts it: “… the problem with rumors — they’re often much more interesting than the truth. The challenge for fact-checkers, it seems, is to make the facts as fun to share as the myths they seek to replace.”

    nytimes.com/2014/09/30/upshot/its-so-much-more-fun-to-spread-rumors-than-the-truth.html