While Twitter’s popularity continues to grow, the trend of false “trending” is becoming more prominent on the social networking site and at a seemingly explosive and exponential rate.
These false trends’ results are comparable to the game of Telephone (a.ka., Chinese Whispers or Gossip) that I used to play with my girlfriends eons ago at slumber parties. The person at the beginning of the “telephone line” whispers a phrase in their neighbor’s ear. The message is carried down the line of players until the last receiving person reveals the “phone call”. The ensuing message (usually a wild rumor) rarely matches the initial conversation. Similarly, tweets are creating a viral, domino effect by relaying hear-say to a group of followers who in turn broadcast the same or like message to a broader audience. Sometimes resulting in legitimate, news tidbits snowballing into monstrous, untamable rumors and bogus gossip blowing up like a volcano.
Recently, Twitter made changes to their system so popular topics show as “Trending Topics”. You can now view these trends easily from your profile. They’re located on the right-hand sidebar, directly beneath the search field labeled “Trending Topics”.
Just yesterday, listed as one of top trending topics was “Patrick Swayze”. For those of you not in the know, Patrick Swayze is a quadruple-threat Hollywood movie star (of Dirty Dancing, Ghost and Point Break fame, to name just a few) who was diagnosed last year with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Having visited WhatTheTrend.com, a resourceful website to view trends and why they’re happening, the “Patrick Swayze” trend was skyrocketing on news of his death. Having done a quick search on Google, I found articles already published and being “Dugg” of Swayze’s demise. Feeling secure that I had done my “due diligence” I posted a quick tweet on Twitter of “Rest In Peace Patrick Swayze”. Soon after I tweeted, I searched for more news and found that a press release had been published by Swayze’s publicist. The release stated that the news was merely a fake rumor fueled by the radio and Twitter frenzy. Needless to say, I felt like a total dope over my tweet. I logged back into my account and deleted my update.
Fake news like Patrick Swayze’s death has occurred before by “nit-twits” earlier this year. Even big media publications are guilty of broadcasting faulty tweets. Allegedly, the L.A. Times leaked a tweet last Friday that California’s Prop 8 (the state’s ballot proposition that eliminated same-sex couples’ right to marry) had been overturned. Realizing an erroneous update had been made, the L.A. Times retracted their tweet. Unfortunately, it was too late and the rumor quickly spread like wildfire among hundreds of thousands of tweeple. “Prop 8 Overturned” shot up as the number one trending topic for that day.
I myself am just beginning to learn how to utilize Twitter as the powerful tool that it is, some of which is still a quandary to a twoob (Twitter Noob) like myself. It’s apparent that there’s a real need for precautionary measures to be put in place to ensure that spiraling out-of-control rumors and gossip aren’t mistaken as news stories. So, what to do about tweeting tall tales?
At this stage of the game, Twitter seems to be growing at an awe-inspiring, blob-like proportion, overpowering the micro blogosphere, if not all of the web and its denizens. The folks at Twitter may opt for a rating system for each tweet – something like a nay or yay (“thumbs up” or “thumbs down”) approach to voting on the credibility of an update. Or, maybe they’ll consider an Ebay-esque ranking system allowing users to provide feedback on a user’s tweet integrity. It’ll be interesting to see if the tweety cream will be able to separate itself from the hyped, trending crap!