Viral Publishing: Credibility Means Balancing Speed and Accuracy

As more readers grow skeptical of viral headlines and inaccurate content online, publications like BuzzFeed are learning that getting the facts wrong can wreak havoc on on credibility.


It’s kind of annoying when you’re searching for the latest news and events, only to be confronted by a half-truth. The social media news cycle is a minute-by-minute breakdown, compared to the 24-hour-news cycle. As newer online publications like BuzzFeed gain popularity through viral dominance, they’re also starting to realize the importance of credibility.

Citing sources accurately and delivering credible information has been a concern in news reporting since well before the Internet. Publishing bad information can wreak havoc on the reputation of a publication, and with Internet users increasingly getting their news on social sites, checks and balances are starting to be put in place.

BuzzFeed has been hiring more editors and managers from seasoned media companies, such as Mark Schoofs, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who was hired to lead their new team of investigative reporters. Virality will only take you so far and it looks like BuzzFeed is becoming more interested in high quality journalism, as well as engagement.

When a story runs out ahead of the facts and picks up steam, an online retraction doesn’t have nearly the impact of a print retraction. Instead, an entire retraction follow up debunking the inaccuracies of the original piece gets published. This swing back and forth isn’t great for credibility and users are beginning to grow skeptical.

Brett Christensen, owner and operator of Hoax Slayer, sees the increase in skepticism as a good thing, especially when its perpetuated by larger organizations. “I think it would be a very positive step if the bigger news outlets started to report more on hoaxes and scams. Wider coverage might more effectively get through to the Internet public at large,” he said in an email to BuzzFeed.

There’s also a browser extension for both Chrome and Firefox that enables the removal of “Viral Headline English.” For readers sick of seeing Upworthy and BuzzFeed style headlines in their feed, this is perfect. “Incredibly” becomes “painfully ordinary.” Hype just isn’t what it used to be, and what’s left is the desire to make sure what you’re about to share is high quality.

There’s a fine balance between fact and fiction online. When Twitter and a smartphone enable every user to be a journalist, it’s hard to separate those two. There aren’t many ways to combat that, but BuzzFeed and others are working on it by hiring gatekeepers — editors and fact checkers — to balance speed with accuracy. Viral can be verified too.

Image Credit: _gee_

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