Carl Franzen of TPM’s IdeaLab reports that for several hours today News Corp. was erroneously corroborating that the Twitter handle of @wendi_deng was in Twitter-speak a ‘verified account’. Turns out they were wrong, as was Twitter. It was really a bogus handle for a fake account. Eventually, News Corp. corrected the mistake about the wife of their corporate chairman, but that’s a pretty rad mistake for a company to make about itself. One marvels how Twitter, and especially News Corp, could have gotten something so simple so wrong.
Reading Franzen’s story, I thought of the incident that made a quiet holiday-week Wednesday hop, when the NY Times sent an erroneous email to 8 million of their own customers, including me. Like News Corp., the Times got their first response wrong, though in a way opposite to the corporate home of FOX News and the NY Post. Where News Corp. claimed a bogus account was actually real, the Times told other media and the world that a real message from the NY Times was actually spam. A few hours later the Times put out word that the message really had come from them. My post then read:
On Twitter [the Times] reported, “If you received an e-mail today about canceling your New York Times subscription, ignore it. It’s not from us.” A few hours later they had to admit this too was wrong; the message hadn’t been spam, it really had come from the newspaper. Reflexively blaming spam for the transmission of an email to 8,000,000 readers, when it was supposed to go to 300, is bad form.
Nowadays media companies are such complex organizations they’ve become quite capable of pranking themselves. What’s more, in each of these cases the companies made corporate communications mistakes, tarnishing their brand, over things they should have easily been able to avert. I detest seeing errors in books I’ve published–I get sick to my stomach the first time I see an error in a book I’ve edited–so my outlook here is informed by that. And yet, I know that I am fallible, along with other people, and that we’re all probably more mistake-prone in our screen-dominated age than in eras past. Mistakes will continue to occur in communications. But what’s inexcusable is to make errors on top of errors. Both companies here failed as organizations to correctly assess the matter at hand. I guess you might say they’re simply too complex to be simple when they need to be.