Twitter desperately needs its own fact-checking system, and fast [Opinion]

badlands twitter account

Whether you believe climate change is a human-fuelled condition or simple planet dynamics scantly matters at this point. Speaking as a South African currently experiencing one of the “biggest drought events in living memory”, climate change is very much a reality.

But some don’t seem to think so.

South Dakota’s Badlands National Park was caught with ink-stained hands this week after the park’s Twitter account blurted out a few climate change facts. But it seems the plot is a bit thicker than that. The tweets were not from the park itself.

Fact or alternative fact?

According to Buzzfeed’s Claudia Koerner speaking to a National Parks official, the account was “compromised” by a former employee.

Some of the “compromised” tweets included:

“The pre-industrial concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 280 parts per million (ppm). As of December 2016, 404.93 ppm”.

And my personal favourite:

“Today, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than at any time in the last 650,000 years. #climate”.

These were soon deleted (but can be viewed here), which is scarier than the compromise itself. A national parks spokesperson suggests that the Parks Service didn’t ask Badlands to to remove them, but the park instead “chose to do so when they realized that their account had been compromised.”

Uh, okay. Is the deletion of the tweets more about the content of said tweets, or the breach itself?

Sure, it’s a breach, but it’s not like Badlands hasn’t ever tweeted climate facts previously. Additionally, the tweet format is also remarkably similar to the park’s other tweets of varying topics. #Bison anyone?

This isn’t the first time this year that a National Parks Service account has annoyed officials.

The service’s own official Twitter account retweeted an image comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration crowd sizes in 2009 and 2017 respectively. They soon issued an apology afterwards, meekly regretting the “mistaken RTs”.

Back to Badlands, and the ‘problem’ with facts

The thing is, we’ve seen many worse Twitter breaches in the past. This incident is scantly a bad breach (just ask Square Enix for an example), especially considering that most people would likely assume that Badlands is simply doing national park things. You know, trying extremely hard to preserve the planet’s little resources.

It’s not a secret that President Donald Trump quite dislikes the idea of climate change, so these particular set of tweets is a sharp prod to the bear’s belly. Hell, the EPA was reportedly today asked to take down its climate change page on its website.

While Badlands’ tweets are undeniably about climate change, the incident also questions the nature and treatment of facts and fake news on Twitter.

There’s currently no easy or seamless way to check the validity of facts on Twitter

Even if this account was compromised by a “former employee” — and yes, account breaches should be shunned regardless — why are facts so discouraged? Why is it such an awful thing to talk about the facts regarding the environment sensibly? How has the once-definitive four-letter word become something so malleable?

Facebook is trialing its fake news and fact checking system in Germany. Google is slowly implementing its version. Even Snapchat is dealing with the issue on its network. But Twitter? How do you check if something is indeed “fact” on Twitter? The short answer: you can’t.

There are third-party addons, like The Washington Post’s browser addon, and fact-checking sites like FactCheck, AfricaCheck and Snopes, but installing an add on or redirecting to another website is a bridge too far for most.

If Twitter really wants to remain at the forefront of realtime news, and is serious about its role in the proliferation of information across the internet, it needs to implement a system sooner rather than later.

Donald Trump is going to be plotting America’s — and subsequently the world’s — course for the next four years, but fake news and alternative facts may long outlast that.

Do you agree with my views? Let me know in the comments section below. Alternatively, have a look at Memeburn’s fake news pack — that’ll help you ward off evil fake news spirits — right here.

Andy Walker, former editor


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