How The Prop 8 Overturned Rumor On Twitter Happened

I was amazed to see in my Twitter stream that the California Supreme Court had overturned Proposition 8 and quickly retweeted the news. Only it wasn’t so. The story everyone’s been pointing at is from almost a year ago. So what caused that to rise to attention in Twitter?

NOTE (Aug. 4, 2010): Since this story was written, Proposition 8 has again been overturned, this time by a US District Court. More news on that here.

The date on the story is pretty small:

LA Times Story & Small Date

It’s easy to think someone who came across the story might have thought it was fresh. But why would they come across it in the first place?

To understand more, I went in search of the first tweet. I hit Twitter Search and looked for any posts today with all the words “prop 8″ in them and which also contained a link (you can do this via the Advanced Search page).

I then started paging back through the results (actually, I looked in the URL field and changed the “page=” number to something high, rather than clicking my way back). Eventually, I found what seems to be the first mention of the ban being overturned:

California State Supreme Court rules Prop 8 unconstitutional but constitutional amendment may be next: @oneiowa

I couldn’t find any other mention of the ban being overturned before this (SEE POSTSCRIPT BELOW, GAWKER FOUND AN OLDER TWEET). After that, it starts to spread out:

The Original Prop 8 Tweet?

In the screenshot of search results, you can see where I’m pointing from the original tweet to where it gets retweeted and above that, where the the link in the original tweet gets retweeted (being put into rather than TinyURL).

Here’s where it gets interesting. If you try to go to the link in the original tweet (here), you’ll see it’s not the LA Times story that everyone’s talking about but instead a story on ABC News. Or a former story, because it’s been removed now.

If I had to guess, my assumption is that somehow, that ABC News story turned up in a search listing in the way that Google News listed an old story about the United Airlines bankruptcy as new, last year (see Google News & Indexing Old Stories As New for more about that, including the finger pointing).

How’s the LA Times get involved? About 20 minutes after the ABC News link was tweeted, you get a fresh push that Prop. 8 was overturned, pointing at the LA Times story (via this link).

It could be that the person who did this went to the ABC Story and found it was down, so went looking for another story about it. I don’t know. I’ve tried to reach the original tweeter but haven’t heard back and may try to reach the other one later. But you can see the further spread here:

LA Times Story Gets Referenced

Eventually, I saw the “news” from someone I follow, tweeted it, then saw another tweet that it wasn’t so. I deleted my tweet to help prevent things spreading, then also tweeted a correction. Soon after that, however, the LA Times itself tweeted the news:

LA Times Tweets About Prop 8

Within minutes, that tweet had been deleted (along with the tweet it mentions coming from another LA Times account). It was also later corrected.

What have we learned from all this? Read dates more closely! And hopefully, make dates more prominent on stories.

For more, see related stories on Techmeme.

Postscript: Gawker found a tweet that’s older that the one I thought was the original (I didn’t see this, as I looked for “Proposition 8″ or “Prop 8″ rather than something like “gay marriage.”). I’ve checked, and it is before the one I thought originated it. It points at that same now removed ABC News story. Still checking into that, but I can confirm the page was dated from 2008, according to its Google listing. Gawker also reached the original tweeter, and a mistaken news search isn’t the culprit:

Contacted by Gawker, Modzelewski says—ironically—that she first heard the fake news through a pre-Twitter mode of communication: “From a friend” who in turn had read about it on someone’s Facebook page.

Postscript 2: The LA Times has a short item up now saying it meant to tweet the opposite, that the story was old, but sent it out as new.


  1. says

    Nice research on how this hysteria started.

    I believe the roots of this problem are in gossip and people wanting to show how cool they are by revealing some juicy information.

    “Sourcing be damned! I knew it first!”

  2. says

    Jason, the original tweeter did cite the material. She just didn’t realize the story was a year old. And as I explained, it could have been that she came across it through a search that was supposed to be listing fresh stuff. But yes, we can get too excited and twitter first, then read later!

  3. says

    You should be writing the article, not Siegler.

    MG Siegler goes ahead and writes an incorrect article stating it all started with the LA Times. He didn’t do his research.

    So an erroneous article about an erroneous Twitter post. Why am I not surprised?

  4. Elle says

    I followed a link to a Breitbart page that didn’t include the year in the date at the top – it just said “May 15″. There was a (c)2008 at the very bottom of the story but overall it was misleading (of course, I should have realized it was old when it didn’t mention anything about the election last year). What sites post news stories without a complete date?

  5. says

    You did a great job pulling this all together and investigating the source of the problem. Unless the real source deleted their own listing before you started digging.

  6. says

    I really wonder why the hell LAT “RE”tweeted their own articles without some kind of their own *due process* (like consulting with the desk?).

    Anyway, you really did a nice job, Danny.

  7. says

    Excellent deduction work!

    On, “Follow Friday” I have noticed that things spread very rapidly on Twitter. I try not to get involved, although I do manage to get sucked in every once in awhile :)

    Thank you for this!

  8. Michelle E says

    curious; how long & how many tweets between original bad post first correction. the speed of self-correction may be the real story here.

  9. LR says

    FYI, earlier today I forwarded the LAT link to friends, but I got it not from Twitter, but from the LAT site itself, on the right in the section where links appear to recent news. It was just right there for anyone (and apparently, everyone) to click on just as though it were fresh news. When the link was up and I forwarded it, it definitely did NOT say ARCHIVE STORY–either on the link or on the story itself. That came later, after one of my more astute friends caught the date problem and let me down easy that it was old news. That could be where the friends of girl who heard it from friends on fb got it. It was just like new news, and if LAT can’t even correct their tweets right, why is it hard to believe they screwed up some coding for what to post today? No wonder newspapers are going out of business left and right.

  10. HeDied4u says

    This is what America is becoming. It is okay to teach our little boys that being sodomized their entire lives is constitutional and okay. Aren’t our teenagers confused enough already? Now they are going to feel the need to try both sides to figure out what they like. This is ridiculous! Then everybody wonders why this country is falling apart!!! Freedom to do good is great, but too much freedom to do bad is not so good. Why has it been scientifically proven that the life span of homosexuals is significantly shorter that those in normal relationships? Why? Well because it is WRONG! Why is it wrong? Well, because it is BAD for you! Everything that God tells us is wrong is not because He is trying to destroy our lives, it is because He wants to protect our lives because He cares for us!

  11. says

    Actually, I teach my little boys that if our gay friend, who is as kind and caring to them as any of our straight friends, wants to get married to someone he loves, he should be able to. They don’t seem confused about that.

    As for being confused, I’d say that’s you. The Constitution doesn’t outlaw the ways you can have sex, sorry. The ruling was that sodomy was legal or illegal for gays or straights. It was about whether or not gays can marry.

    Somehow, we’ve had homosexuality for thousands of years, and yet millions of people don’t feel the need to “try both sides” to figure it out. That’s because millions of people simply aren’t homosexual. Similarly, you have millions of homosexuals who don’t feel they need to “try” straight sex to know if they like it. They’re not straight.

    Personally, I believe in a God who loves all of his children and wouldn’t decide that some of them should have feelings toward the same sex and yet should be damned for that or cursed with your alleged shorter life span.

    But in the end, my believe about God or your believe has nothing to do with this argument. Where talking about what the laws of the United States of America allow. A court has ruled today that the US Constitution protects the rights for gay couples to web. We now wait to see how it goes up through the Supreme Court.

    That same Constitution also expressly forbids the US government from using religious beliefs as a foundation of its law, in order to protect your right to worship a God as you see fit, as well as might right and rights of those who don’t believe in a God or gods at all.

    Personally, I think that was an incredibly wise decision that our founders made for this country.