Twitter: The Best and Worst Thing to Happen to News

[blockquote class=”kp-blockquote”]Confession:  I adore Twitter.[/blockquote]

I am a confirmed, self-admitted Twitter addict.  It’s the social medium where I feel the most comfortable and the least restricted.  If all social media is just a microcosm of the high school experience, Facebook is the sunlit courtyard where the cool kids hang out, while Twitter is the shaded corner behind the shop-class where the stoners, the gamers and the brains congregate to discuss deeper, yet more convoluted subjects of life.  And that’s where I’ve always felt most at home.  So when, due to unique circumstances, I happened to be at home at the time the news of the Boston Marathon bombing broke, despite being able to watch live footage I still turned to the most immediate news source I know: Twitter.

Twitter has revolutionized the way information is gathered and shared.  It has taken the 24-hour news cycle and condensed it to 15 minutes.  To paraphrase an old bromide, Twitter goes around the world before network and cable news has its boots on.  It’s this speed-of-light conveyance that is both the best and worst thing to happen to news and information.

I am constantly hearing people complaining about the quality of journalism today; certainly Twitter was rife with snark Wednesday over CNN’s repeated gaffes concerning an alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspect.  Lack of fact-checking, over-reporting, under-reporting, ‘If it bleeds, it leads’ mentality, all valid complaints.  Yet I see these same people gleaning their Twitter feeds for the latest kernels of news, retweeting any and all news reports, no matter if they’ve been verified, no matter the source, all in the name of being in the loop.  No one wants to be late to the fray, and in the quest to be timely and relevant, to get those all-important retweets, we spread the most sensationalist information we can find.  Photos of broken and destroyed bodies are not news, they’re news porn — pulp reportage masquerading as breaking news.  I’m certainly not innocent in this.  I’ve had moments where in my eagerness to be in the know I’ve tweeted inaccurate information. But on Monday, seeing the Twitter feeding frenzy once the blood hit the water, I had to force myself to take a step back.

“The need to be accurate is being trumped by the desire for immediacy, the need to be first, the need to have the hottest news of the minute and to be the first on your feed to have it, so we can watch those retweet and follower numbers climb.”

To show caution is to be left behind; how can one take the time to fact-check and still be the first reporter to the phone?  At a certain point it ceases to be informative and becomes a chaotic cacophony of attention-grabbing, tabloid-grade memes, millions of amateur newsboys screaming for you to buy their paper — it’s Newsies from Hell. 

Twitter is an amazing resource for keeping up to date on the issues affecting us on a local and global scale, but it’s also become a textbook example of informational one-upmanship.

External links & references

  1. Twitter and Facebook are news outlets : Netflix ruling
  2. Storyful : Social media newswire
  3. Summly & the death of long-form journalism : RedCert
  4. News gathering done well on Twitter

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