Mark Sweney 

BBC admits it made mistakes using Mumbai Twitter coverage

Micro-blogging service Twitter came of age during the Mumbai terror attacks. However, the BBC has been criticised for using unsubstantiated citizen reports in its coverage
  
  

There has been a mixed reaction to the BBC's use of live reports from micro-blogging service Twitter in its coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks.

BBC News website editor Steve Herrmann has added his thoughts to the debate, including an admission that the corporation will need to take more care in how it uses lightening fast, unsubstantiated citizen posts from Twitter in the future.

He raises a specific failing – regarding the widely-reported tweet that the Indian government called for an end to Twitter updates from Mumbai – which the BBC covered in a "live updates" aggregation page.

"Should we have checked this before reporting it? Made it clearer that we hadn't? we certainly would have done if we'd wanted to include it in our news stories (we didn't) or to carry it without attribution," Herrmann says. "But should we have tried to check it and then reported back later, if only to say that we hadn't found any confirmation? I think in this case we should have, and we've learned a lesson."

The issue has certainly divided opinion. The Independent railed against Twitter journalism, arguing that the BBC was playing Russian roulette with its editorial integrity.

In the Indy Tom Sutcliffe argued that Twitterers shoot from the hip, whereas the hallmark of journalism is not to publish wildly because of the potential professional cost.

"A Twitterer owes no duty except to their own impressions and own state of mind, they'll pass on rumour as readily as fact,"he says. "If the BBC doesn't want the cynicism to grow, it should be a bit more careful about blurring the boundary between twittering and serious reporting."

Jeff Jarvis, who writes a column for the Guardian, sparked a debate around Twitter's role that gathered plenty of positive comments about the "coming of age" of the micro-blogging service.

Herrmann admits that while tweets gave a "strong sense"of what people connected with the story thought, or saw, "most did not ad a great amount of detail to what we knew of events".

His BBC colleague Rory Cellan-Jones highlighted the dangers of overstating the "Mumbai Twitter myth" earlier this week, arguing that, if anything, the role of mainstream media to report fact over fiction has been made even more relevant in the digital era.

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