Many of the thousands of Twitter users who complained over Jan Moir's controversial article about the death of Boyzone singer Stephen Gately largely didn't read her column, the Mail Online's managing director said yesterday.
The furore created, James Bromley said, led other newspapers and TV networks to report the Twitter reaction as if it were a reliable indicator of general public opinion.
Moir's article, published in the Daily Mail on 16 October, headed "Why there was nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gately's death" caused widespread outcry when it suggested there was something "sleazy" about the tragedy.
The article suggested the truth had yet to emerge about the exact circumstances of Gately's "strange and lonely death".
Moir's piece became the most complained about article in the history of the Press Complaints Commission as 25,000 people registered their objections claiming it was insensitive to Gately's family and that it was homophobic.
A subsequent inquiry by the press watchdog cleared Moir of breaching its code of conduct.
"Irrespective of your individual views about that story," Bromley told an Association of Online Publishers forum yesterday, 'while it was being retweeted by some very high profile Twitter users, the retweets did not match the number of reads of the article [online].
'In fact, there was about 65 per cent more [retweets] in one single hour relating to the article than actual views of the article. People were retweeting without actually reading.
'Yet the Ten O' Clock News and the newspapers the next day pick up on Twitter as being a medium which resemblesâ€¦a true indicator of mass audience."
Earlier Bromley told the forum that reaction to the article on social media websites had taken aback colleagues at the Daily Mail.
He said: 'It was an eye-opener for people in the building who could not understand why Facebook and Twitter were attacking them."
Bromley, who did not reveal the number of page-views the Moir article achieved online, made the point that despite its seeming popularity Twitter did not represent a sizable percentage of the UK population and therefore did not form a large part of Mail Online's engagement strategy as it was looking for mass audience.
He admitted that Mail Online, which according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations is the most popular UK newspaper website, was behind other newspapers in its use of social media activity like Twitter and Facebook.
Bromley said introducing Twitter aggressively to Mail Online's audience was not a priority as the newspaper was instead focused on increasing engagement through the core comment elements of the site.
He said Mail Online received more than 350,000 comments a month, a figure which had increased since the newspaper introduced an unmoderated comments system.
Bromley said Mail Online did not disregard sites like Twitter and Facebook; it was just that the title would embrace them 'when it was relevant as a publisher not a platform".