The problem with how we react on social media
So, The Malay Mail Online has edited the story, republished it and issued an apology. All that’s well, ends well?
If you’re not sure what I’m referring to, The Malay Mail Online (Update: Been informed since that this incident involves the online team, not the print team) earlier this afternoon published a story headlined:
Inter-racial marriages put national harmony at risk, AG says
Like many others who read the article, I was upset that Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail could even suggest this. However, not long after, I received a tweet suggesting that I was “pretending to be stupid” by taking the AG’s statement out of context when all I was doing was responding to a news report. My natural response was to look for the statement. I couldn’t find it but Syahredzan, who was also tagged in that “pretending to be stupid” tweet did. And when I read the excerpt for the statement, I concluded that one of two things happened:
1. The Malay Mail had taken what the AG said out of context. His speech reads:
In this regard, the failure of the converting spouses to resolve the family arrangements prior to conversion and in fact, attempting to use the different jurisdictions of the civil and Syariah courts to their advantage, jeopardizes not only family harmony but potentially national harmony.
2. The Malay Mail misrepresented the AG’s statement. However, they have since apologised and attribute it to an error.
The erroneous report was unintentional and has since been removed. Malay Mail Online apologises for the misreporting.
I’m less concerned here about what people’s thoughts are about the AG’s statement. Having read the excerpt, I personally think that it was a fair assessment of the situation. Still, others are still not accepting this as appropriate language from an AG and that is their prerogative.
What I have been thinking about since the actual speech had circulated around (to correct The Malay Mail Online article before it did) and since the corrected article appeared is about how people has been responding to the original article. The headline was no doubt provocative and, if true, I can’t blame many people for reacting with anger the way they did.
From a digital culture perspective, I noticed two things:
1. Never mind that people were still sharing the article (which no longer exists), people were still leaving comments of their dissatisfaction and anger even after the article had been taken down. This means that they definitely didn’t read the article because that link now only leads you to a generic page (although the URL with the original headline remains).
2. Even after the corrections made its way, I still saw people posting the original article on Facebook. Because the article doesn’t exist anymore, I’m assuming people were sharing their friends’ posts of the original article. Which also means that they probably did not read the article before posting or commenting (some people still comment in anger, even after other “commentors” had noted the inaccuracy and correction).
This behaviour is no doubt problematic. It is common for social media users to share, ReTweet and Like things without actually reading (there has been many articles/journals written about this – it’s how some media organisations get their traffic through sensational or abstract headlines, why clickbaiting is so successful and more). How to deal with this behaviour (if there is even a solution other than more education) is for another article.
I don’t have a solution. But what I am more concerned here is how – knowing that people behave that way – we make sure that the inaccurate report stops circulating, or at least slows down. The corrected article isn’t as likely to spread as quickly because it is less provocative. What’s more, not everyone is constantly glued to social media and therefore, might have moved on from the issue after venting at the original article. Of course, there are those who just choose to ignore the corrections even after being alerted to it.
One way that I deal with it personally is to correct my Twitter posts. I don’t delete the inaccurate posts (I believe they should remain as record) but I tweet not only the corrected article (perhaps as a retweet), but I also sent subsequent tweets mentioning the correct article, the changes and in this case, I apologised for my reaction (although I stand by it, had the original article correctly represented the AG’s statement).
Another thing I do as well is to leave comments on my friends’ updates on Facebook, if no one has corrected them yet. Today, I either mentioned the misquote or “miscontext” or I posted a link to the corrected article and apology. Some friends obviously are more grateful than others for this!
But that is all I can really do – it’s not really my responsibility to correct all of social media and I don’t have the resources to do so even if I wanted to.
For this reason, I think that media organisations – and anyone who publishes really (including bloggers, social media users and more) – need to take an extended responsibility. It’s all good and fair to correct the article and apologise – if the error is genuine, that is commendable.
In Malaysia, media organisations have a habit of just removing the posts. This time, there was a corrected version but I have noted in the past that organisations just delete a post when informed of inaccuracy or that they were wrong.
What I’d like to see is content remaining at the original URL with the apology as well as a note specifying what the correction is and more importantly, what was corrected. Some news organisations in other countries do this already, right down to noting a simple typo or misspelling of names.
I suggest this because the fact is that these links will remain forever embedded on these networks, and people react to statuses (and share them). So even if I have corrected someone or posted the link to the correction, other people can still share the status. What would be good is that if anyone who clicks on that article (even if it is the original inaccurate one) will then see the corrected version.
This way, we have record of what has happened, we note the remedy and we also acknowledge future readers.
We cannot function on social media believing that we only exist within our own spaces/platforms – the article may no longer be on The Malay Mail Online but its link, headline and perhaps some of the text will exist continually on the Internet.
p/s I’d love to hear any other suggestions on dealing with the problems I noted in this post if you have any!
7.22pm Malaysian time (+8 GMT)