29 7 / 2013
In the most recent issue of The New York Times Magazine, Jay Caspian Kang examined how Sunil Tripathi, a missing Brown University student, was inadvertently labeled as a suspect in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings this past April. The first section of his piece centers on the events of the evening of April 18 and the early hours of April 19, as the manhunt for the bombers was in full swing and playing out in real-time across social media and on sites such as Reddit. In the course of writing how the manic pace of news-gathering led to the false accusation of Tripathi’s involvement, Kang depicts a tweet of mine as having played an integral role in the chain of events that led to this widespread, false identification.
But Kang made a major (if easy-to-commit) error in his attempt to reconstruct that night’s Twitter conversation and dragged me unfairly and falsely into his narrative. The tweet of mine that he cites came at midnight Pacific time, not midnight Eastern time, as claimed in the story and an accompanying sidebar. That means my tweet came at 3 a.m. Eastern and could not have possibly played the critical role in spreading misinformation that he claims. (There is a separate, and interesting, argument over whether reporters should engage the social conversation, or keep their hands clean; Kang’s story leans toward the latter, while I think we have little choice but to engage in this rich, new breaking-news conversation, given that our readers are already there with us.)
In any event, on the facts: Kang emphatically ends the first section of the piece with a 3 a.m. Eastern timestamp. That immediately places my tweet outside the framework of his larger narrative. Incidentally, Kang’s story also misstates the number of Twitter followers that BuzzFeed reporter Andrew Kaczynski had as of that night. According to Twitter analytics, he had closer to 81,000 that evening, not 90,000.
My editor emailed Kang and New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren on Saturday night to point out these errors in the article. The story centers on how bad information spreads online, but it’s hard to imagine Twitter or Reddit maintaining a falsehood like this for two whole days.
UPDATE: This evening, The New York Times Magazine issued a correction and changed the text accordingly.
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