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Ferguson Reveals a Twitter Loop

Ferguson Reveals a Twitter Loop NYTimes com


No one will argue that Twitter played an imperative role in ensuring that the events in Ferguson led to an international debate about police violence and race in America. But it was also responsible for creating and perpetuating numerous falsehoods. What’s worse, Twitter users sought out and shared accounts that aligned with their viewpoint, with little regard to whether they were true.

Take, for example, one rumor that circulated on Twitter on Aug. 18 about a white pickup truck that was supposedly offering protesters free rides when the police arrested everyone onboard. “They’re just arresting people in this truck for ... no reason other than they are there or trying to get home,”wrote @graceishuman on Twitter.

But David Carson, a photographer with The St. Louis Post-Dispatch who was embedded with the police officers who pulled over the pickup, said that police arrested 12 passengers, two of whom had guns, and found a Molotov cocktail in the truck bed.

In another example, Matt Pearce, a national reporter for The Los Angeles Times, noted that a series of tweets on Aug. 17 claimed that protesters had looted a McDonald’s for containers of milk to alleviate eye pain from police tear gas.

But that didn’t happen, either. Mr. Pearce said that the windows at that McDonald’s had been broken earlier by people with children trying to seek shelter from tear gas, and that store employees had actually handed protesters the milk.

Similarly, a photograph of a man throwing a tear-gas canister through the air quickly circulated on Twitter. “This man isn’t throwing tear gas AT police but AWAY from children,” wrote one Twitter user, along withdozens of similar tweets. But according to Mr. Pearce, who interviewed the photographer behind the shot, there were no children in the vicinity.

“When the experience of a story is mediated by the aperture of Twitter or TV, there are things left on the cutting-room floor,” Mr. Pearce said.

A reason misinformation spread so quickly was that people were watching videos being streamed live from eyewitnesses’ smartphones. And while those live streams were seen as an unfiltered window into events as they unfolded, they often bore little resemblance to reality.

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Twitter: Spreading misinformation, hate speech, and gossip since 2006.

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