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: http://tinyurl.com/6xevh4 @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 Bit.ly 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 Bit.ly 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.