A friend of mine once asked me if I tweet (haven’t heard of Twitter yet)? Told her, do I look like a bird? And she just simply laughed at me and said, “No, what I mean is, do you have a Twitter account?” “Ahhh, ok, I don’t have, but what is that?
Wikipedia defines Twitter as a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read each others’ updates, known as tweets. The tweets or the message are text-based posts of up to 140 characters, displayed on the author’s profile page and delivered to other users – known as followers – who have subscribed to them.
But why should we tweet? What for?
For some people tweeting is a way of connecting with friends and updating them about your life and vice versa – social messaging (social networking + instant messaging = social messaging).
But twitter has gone beyond as a social networking tool. In fact, in some countries twitter is widely used to bring out information, events and breaking news.
The first break on the Mumbai attack was on Twitter. Updates on natural disasters like storms, hurricanes, earthquakes and even fire are being monitored on Twitter.
Celebrities also used Twitter to keep their fans updated about them, about their movies, gigs, and even stand on issues.
Citizen journalists are finding Twitter a great tool in microblogging especially with the availability of mobile phones that provides connectivity to update blogs real time.
Politicians also used twitter. Updates go direct to their audience bypassing the mainstream media as the source of news.
Using the tool to also connect, a lot of mainstream media used Twitter to also pushed news content. Reporters, editors, TV and radio personalities use Twitter.
Is Twitter a boon or a bane to the media industry?
Twitter has been successful as a tool to push information. Some media outlets realized this and started using the tool to push and brand the information as sourced from them.
Twitter and other social networking tools like Facebook, Myspace, Multiply and others have absolutely changed the media landscape.
For me, the mainstream media needs to evolve and use these tools to its benefit. Yes it is true that Twitter is a great source of up-to-the-minute updates, but the question is, how will we know if the tweets are accurate?
This is where journalists come to the picture. Media report the news truthfully, accurately and fairly. Failure of media to do this job means its death. Media is accountable to its readers.
In Twitter, a person twitting an information to the world wide web is not accountable to anybody. In the Twitter world you believe tweets at your own risk.
Here comes the value of the journalists, who verifies, validates and checks accuracy of any information that breaks before reporting it with all fairness and presenting it with all the information valuable to the reader.
To me, media should not ignore these tools or fight against it. In fact, it should use these tools to enhance the delivery and value of news.
The extraordinary amount of news coverage the mainstream media
has recently devoted to Twitter has led some to think the press is
in love with the 3-year-old microblogging service. But it’s a
Twitter’s constantly updating record of up-to-the-minute reaction
has in some instances threatened to usurp media coverage of breaking
news. It has also helped many celebrities, athletes and politicians
bypass the media to get their message directly to their audience.
Make no mistake about it, Twitter has in many ways been a boon to
the media. It’s one more way a story might go viral and it’s
arguably the best way for a news outlet to get closer to their
readership. Most outlets now have a presence on Twitter with a feed
directing readers to their respective sites.
But even in an Internet world that has for years eroded the
distance between media and consumer, Twitter is a jolt of
democratization to journalism.
To date, the most salient, powerful example of Twitter’s
influence has been Iranian protesters using the service (among many
other methods) to assemble marches against what they feel has been
an unjust election.
Early in the protests, the State Department even urged Twitter to
put off maintenance that would have temporarily cut off service.
Twitter is difficult for governments to block because tweets – 140
characters or less – can be uploaded from mobile phones like a text
message. (The Iranian government has nevertheless often succeeded in
blocking Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.)
Further, many Americans were upset at what they considered CNN’s
thin early coverage of the revolution in Iran and voiced their
complaints (where else?) on Twitter. Some said they preferred news
on Twitter to the cable news network.
Twitter also produced eyewitness accounts of the Mumbai terrorist
attacks last year. And when the US Airways jetliner crashed into New
York’s Hudson River, Twitter was among the first places photos of
the landing were linked.
Many users have become accustomed to clicking on Twitter when
news breaks. There, they can find a sea of reaction, commentary and
links to actual articles.
The popular technology blog TechCrunch recently questioned
whether Twitter is “the CNN of the new media generation.”
“Twitter absolutely changes the media landscape,” said Ross
Dawson, author and communications strategy analyst. “I like to
refer to Marshall McLuhan’s description of media as `an extension of
our senses.’ Now, Twitter is extending our senses to tens of
millions of people who are often right on the scene where things are
Ashton Kutcher, one of Twitter’s most popular users, in an
earlier Web video evoked the rhetoric of a revolutionary: “We can
and will create our media.” Kutcher, who declined an interview
request, sees Twitter as putting media power in the hands of regular
people and – presumably – regular movie stars.
But comedian Michael Ian Black, a popular figure on Twitter,
notes that while Twitter allows someone to “communicate very
directly with people,” it also allows you to keep them “totally at
There are no follow-up questions on Twitter if the user chooses
not to hear them. When tweets replace an interview or a press
conference, something is lost. Twitter – where brevity can neatly do
away with messy details – can thus be used to control one’s message
and one’s image.
Cyclist Lance Armstrong, for example, has caused some news
organizations to question how they approach Twitter. Armstrong,
who’s in the midst of a comeback bid, often treats Twitter as his
primary news outlet.
In May during the Tour of Italy, Armstrong’s end-around the media
caused some news organizations to boycott his tweets. VeloNews.com,
the Web site for a competitive cycling magazine, avoids using
Twitter to establish facts without independent sourcing.
“It’s one-sided,” said VeloNews.com editor Steve Frothingham,
who’s a former Associated Press reporter. “It’s us just sitting
there taking what he’s giving. We can’t just not ask follow-up
questions, we can’t ask any questions.”
Frothingham also notes the awkwardness of distribution.
Armstrong’s followers (more than 1.1 million) outnumber the
readership of VeloNews.com. When Armstrong announced the birth of a
son in early June on Twitter, he also, in effect, scooped cycling
and tabloid outlets.
But truthfulness remains the biggest problem: Those direct,
near-instantaneous dispatches are far less reliable than
old-fashioned journalism. News that circulates on Twitter,
re-tweeted from person to person, can spread quickly – often too
quickly for it to be verified. False rumors spread daily on Twitter.
In the days following Jackson’s death, fake reports have
frequently had to be knocked down by news organizations that do the
fact checking. Dawson notes that established media channels still
have a virtual monopoly on credibility.
Erroneous declarations of celebrity deaths have been one trend.
Patrick Swayze, who is battling pancreatic cancer, recently had
to defend that he is indeed still alive after thousands of Twitter
users spread the news that he was dead.
Jeff Goldblum had to do the same. On Monday, he appeared on
Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” to confirm his
warm-bloodedness. The host, Stephen Colbert, refused to believe him,
preferring the random accounts on Twitter. Eventually, Goldblum,
too, became convinced and eulogized himself.
While involvement in the protests in Iran might be Twitter’s most
meaningful achievement thus far, some have noted that many
inaccuracies were circulated.
That has raised the concern that some people or governments may
use Twitter to spread disinformation even more dangerous than
suggesting Jeff Goldblum is dead.
Andrew Keen, author of “The Cult of the Amateur,” believes
Twitter – and whatever real-time Web services follow in its wake –
represents the future of both the Internet and media.
But Keen says the Iran coverage on Twitter “exposes all the
weakness of the service, the fact that it’s so chaotic and
unreliable. Who knows who’s tweeting what?”
Some news outlets have begun aggregating, translating and
confirming tweets said to be from Iran, including The Daily Dish
(Andrew Sullivan’s blog for The Atlantic magazine) and the Web site
for the National Iranian American Council, a nonprofit organization
that represents the interests of Iranian Americans on Capitol Hill.
“The very nature of an editor needs to shift,” says Keen.
“(The Iran experience) is going to underline the need more and more
for curators, for people who are able to take all of this raw
content and actually shape it into valuable news.”