“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” -Buddha
The way people consume their news has changed. Over 52% of Twitter users report that they receive their news on the popular social media network, up from 33% in 2012. Couple that with the nearly 8,000 tweets being sent every second across the globe and there is no denying Twitter’s enormous influence.
As Lyse Doucet, Chief International Correspondent at BBC, puts it, “There is no question, if you are not on Facebook and Twitter, you are not getting the full story.”
But the change in news consumption is reciprocal. Twitter has revolutionized the newsroom as well, speeding up an already complicated new gathering process. What used to slowly crawl in over the wire, now comes over in real time, tweet after tweet. The modern day journalist mustn’t rest his eyes for a moment for fear of missing vital information.
However, the 24 hours news cycle may provide a unique value to journalists. Crowd-sourcing has become a technique many are using to compile details on a story. Twitter provides real time information, reactions, and public opinion during breaking stories. Some studies suggest that today, journalists use Twitter for up to 80% of their news-gathering techniques.
But, reporters must remain cautious and filter through what is fact and what is fiction. Twitter has created an atmosphere where anyone can break a story. Misinformation can spread across the globe quicker than the time it takes to write your first tweet of the day. The average citizen now owns part of the news reporting process, and a subsequent demand for fact-checkers has been established. The public relies on journalists to fill that fact-checking void. News outlets once had the freedom to report on events and explain its details at the same time. Now, the demand from reporters has shifted to the explanation process, sometimes skipping the reporting all together, and leaving little room for error.
Errors in journalism can compound exponentially. As journalist and blogger, Amy Cassell says, “Corrections are no longer an afterthought process – they happen in real time for the world to see…So you had better make sure your reporting is ironclad.” Twitter users have become notorious for taking advantage of the almost-direct communication channel with its more influential users. What was once a thoughtful letter to the editor is now an abbreviated 140 character direct message. Or, thousands of direct messages.
With Twitter’s accessibility, it has become extremely easy for a community or a group to rally around an idea or a cause. The collaborative reporting concept that is fostered on Twitter can lead directly to social activism. The recent example being the #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
Public outrage over the abduction of hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls by Islamist militants fostered a global social media support campaign with millions of messages tagged with a simple demand.
Although some may refer to this movement as a form of Slacktivism, there is no denying that this Twitter activity fueled a central focus for the international news media. The millions joined across the world certainly had more influence than a single report churned out by a concerned journalist.
Hashtag activism furthermore stresses the concept of filtering through what information we choose to consume on a daily basis. A recent study from Pew Research revealed that some opinions expressed on Twitter can be largely different than the broad public opinion. According to the study:
In 2012, 64% of the Twitter conversation surrounding the tragedy in Newton, Conn. was focused on stricter gun controls, while only 49% of public opinion favored the same sentiment.
Will these numbers grow closer together with time? Will Twitter ever be widely accepted as an accurate representation of public opinion? Will journalists begin to rely more on Twitter for news gathering? Will the rest of the world? The answers may be closer than we imagine. As New York Times journalist David Carr writes:
“The media is not the message, the messages are the media.”