Posting Dates Hard to Spot

A background showing a calendar page with three different possible entries.
Where is Posting Date:

Dear Ms. Smartphone: I recently invested in a Wall Street stock because I saw a favorable story about it in the digital version of Barrons (a financial newspaper). The stock did not soar like the headline seemed to promise. When I looked back, I found that the digital story I read was over a week old. Hence by the time I bought it everyone else had sold. The posting date was hard to spot. This problem with finding dates on the Internet is troublesome. It led me to make a pretty rogue investment. Simon

Dear Simon: There’s a famous story in journalism told by Walter Lipppman. There was a remote island that received news very slowly. At the outset of WWI, the English and French inhabitants freely mixed with their German friends for more than six weeks. With the information lag neither group knew that a war had been declared and they were officially enemies.

Despite modern technology, the problem of timing has not disappeared. Information seldom reaches the public in uniform ways. In financial markets as you note a buy- or- sell recommendation is likely to hang around, long after its useful shelf life. There will be financial consequences.

When posting dates are hard to spot or get changed, it can lead to bad business decisions. They also feed the stream of misinformation and create a pile of waste. Now that there is nearly twenty years of information on the Internet, it can be time consuming and unproductive for consumers (and stock pickers) to weed through old stories that have become irrelevant. Worse, they are no longer accurate. Archivists and TikTok viewers  (read on) will disagree.

If you subscribe to Barrons, then TikTok is unlikely to be your go-to source for financial information, but yes, there are stock pickers on that site too.  I single out TikTok because it highlights a contemporary use of timestamps. The platform presents viewers with a stream of algorithmically chosen videos that do not appear in any order.  It compounds the problem you noted in Barrons, yet more and more people turn to it as an information source. 

It’s ironic, since despite its clock-sounding name, TikTok is not chronological. Timestamps are irrelevant in the scroll. That means that a video that was posted 3 months ago is just as likely to show up on a user’s feed as an item posted yesterday.

In an instructive article Wired magazine describes the business model that drives this. When it began TikTok modeled itself as an entertainment and creativity center. The information posted there was not expected to be news worthy or time sensitive.  But as we have learned ‘times’ have changed. The parent company is in the cross-hairs of political sparring between the U.S. government and its Chinese owners.

There’s a mishmash taking place when it comes to timestamps. As you note, Barron’s online articles may be a week old online. A major national newspaper, the Washington Post, encourages reporters to post videos on TikTok that are entertaining but current.  And TikTok fans are likely to post clips of breaking news.

If you want to know when a video was posted there are workarounds. It’s useful to look at the metadata for any posting (see this source). Or, on the TikTok site you can go to the original posting and find a date there or in comments. Or, follow the steps in this recent and comprehensive article in Techzillo for workarounds to find the date in TikTok (it was posted on Jan. 3, 2023).