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Twitter’s Dangerous Speed

by on March 27, 2014

In recent years, Twitter has become a staple in the broader media world. Celebrities, politicians, arms of government and businesses use Twitter to disseminate brands, information and on the spot news updates. More and more journalists are using Twitter to self-promote their work and spread the news to a younger more digitally connected audience.

Twitter however is rife with ethical questions in journalism. What happens to the journalist when he is forced to report the news at a faster, more live speed? Both news and rumor spreads fast, what does this mean for fact checking for the modern journalist? Most pressing, if the corporations, governments and public figures journalists report on are able to disseminate their own information, how does the word of the journalist stand up to the words of those he reports on.

The first issue concerns the pressure journalists feel as the report at faster and faster speeds. Every Twitter entry is a headline, and when a newsworthy event happens, journalists are expected on the scene to live tweet. Often times, these journalists will tweet what they see and hear, some of which is apt to change. Due to the faster pace of news, rumors are better able to spread, as seen by the rumor mill that blew up during the death of Michael Jackson.

As the Huffington Post reported in 2009, twitter is becoming the news source of the 21st century, with mixed results in how journalists are using it. Twitter is one-sided, lacking the same intimate conversations seen in traditional journalism. Rumors can spread across Twitter faster, and public figures can release opinions and updates from the comfort of their homes without going to the press.

Suddenly, the people that journalists report on have the ability to speak as loud and as quickly as the journalist. What happens to news reporting when consumers begin to see the government Twitter handles and corporate handles as trusted sources of information?

My major ethical issue with Twitter is that while it allows for faster reporting, it weakens the strength of reports by forcing them as quickly as possible. Even more pressing, journalists must now compete for audiences with the very subjects they report on. What will the future of journalism look like in this new high speed community?

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3 Comments
  1. Peter Cappiello permalink

    Twitter is necessary, in my opinion, as a companion to traditional outlets. As stated in the first graph, it’s an important tool to connect with younger users and that’s where the readership base has to start to foster a healthy field in the future.

    I agree with the second graph and believe that pressure in terms of fact checking is also healthy. All people see in a tweet is your name and your words, which are your credibility. The onus should be on the reporter to get that right or else there goes legitimacy.

    I know word sometimes spreads based on something an unverified account tweeted, which people believe is true, but there should also be a responsibility on the part of the reader to not blindly accept something that shows up on their Twitter feed. An informed consent should be skeptical.

    As far as reporting things seen or heard, that’s why Twitter is useful. You can overhear a coach, a player, or any non-sports person say something accurate and useful or more commonly, you can put an unused quote from an interview on Twitter as a relevant nugget to prelude your story or as part of a beat you’re covering.

    If things are apt to change, it’s the responsibility of the journalist to update it as it happens, particularly if they’ve tweeted about the subject before.

    For readers looking to government handles as trusted sources, I believe it’s important to look at their handles to see what they are saying as their side of things, but it’s also crucial to remember that the role of the journalist is to hold those in power responsible so those official accounts should be taken with that knowledge in mind.

    It is my understanding that ethical codes are being rewritten to encompass Twitter and social media, which is a big step in identifying what works and doesn’t and how journalists can be better with new platforms in the future.

    I disagree with the last paragraph that getting things out fast equals inaccuracy. Traditional news sources are using the web to get things out fast and they seem to be keeping the same level of diligence through the process, I don’t see why Twitter would be different in that respect. The nature of the internet does create a “high-speed community,” but I believe journalists are adapting.

  2. I agree with your point that Twitter definitely poses a threat to traditional methods of journalism and the ways to reach audiences. However as both a journalist and a regular Twitter user, I think it offers more benefits than disadvantages to the public.

    Unfortunately, I don’t spend nearly as much time as I should reading the newspaper and news articles therefore often times rely on Twitter and alternate forms of social media to provide me with updated news at the quickest pace possible. Without it, I wouldn’t be as well informed with current issues and news as I am today.

    However, I can understand how this can be disadvantageous to the public as well because it paves the way for rumors to be spread easily and quickly. The truth can easily be distorted when something is stated over the internet by a user hiding behind the safety of a computer screen. This allows potential lies to spread globally within minutes, deceiving audiences everywhere.

  3. I would say the Twitter needs news but news doesn’t need Twitter. Twitter is probably reliable for small updates and such, even some headlines. But real news should only be trusted from professional news online sources, New Yorker, CNN, etc. Twitter needs news to remain interesting, as does any social networking site, otherwise a certain audience, not really interested in the “social” aspect of social networking would become very bored, very fast.

    You could argue that oh, in today’s society, news needs Twitter to get the word out there too. But no. Society has trained journalists to think that way, where in fact, journalists have failed to realize our own power to train society. It may not be the hip thing to do, but if news never trickled into social networking, people would still read the official news sites because at the end of the day, they still want to know what’s going on in the world.

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