Last week, Ryan Lizza, a Washington correspondent with the New Yorker, did what I and many other journalists have done in the past three weeks: He attempted to sign up for an account on healthcare.gov, the federal government’s health insurance marketplace site.
And like me, at least, he initially thought he had succeeded. What follows is an instructive lesson in the speed of the news cycle and how incorrect information takes on a life of its own.
Here’s what happened:
Huh, I just tested http://t.co/IV0cLrFUr3 for the first time and I was able to set up an account with no trouble.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 17, 2013
He even tweeted screengrabs showing the steps of his “success.”
It seems to work... pic.twitter.com/1e0VxrY7kc— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 17, 2013
Next step worked too. It verified my identity. pic.twitter.com/RcS0yLkWeL— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 17, 2013
But within 40 minutes, he realized what the rest of us already had: His apparent success was illusive.
So, yes, http://t.co/IV0cLrFUr3 is still broken.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 17, 2013
But at this point, it was too late. His initial tweet caught fire, being retweeted within the White House and even by Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Lizza kept tweeting his problems, but those tweets didn’t get noticed by federal officials.
Tried healthcare dot gov again. Still broken. Can set up an account and get identity verified, but can't view eligibility results or enroll.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 19, 2013
This is what it looks like when you hit "View Eligibility Results" pic.twitter.com/Dw5bNiqyzs— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 19, 2013
.@PressSec Jay, that tweet is very outdated. As I've subsequently noted on Twitter and on CNN, the site is still broken.— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) October 19, 2013
When I flagged him online that he had become a “success story,” he said he shouldn’t be considered one.
Yesterday, I emailed Lizza and asked if he’d been back to the site. He said he hadn’t yet. But he had strong thoughts about the way in which his initial tweet was used. His email to me:
It seems that the web site launch was such a disaster that the White House was incredibly desperate to retweet any shards of good news.
I considered deleting that tweet because after two senior White House officials retweeted it, it took off and left the false impression that my conclusion was that the site worked, which isn’t the case.
It was the Twitter equivalent of blurbing a book using the one positive line from a review that actually trashed the book.
For what it’s worth, Lizza’s experience was similar to mine (but his was magnified). Here’s mine in a few tweets:
The moral of the story: Be careful with your first tweet. Even if you later amend it, it could take on a life of its own.