Can we trust Twitter?

20 Mar

by Georgina Leggate @GeorginaLeggate

Can we trust Twitter? It is a question that I have asked myself since I set up my account in September of last year. When I first started using Twitter, I was like a kid at Christmas. I could follow my favourite celebrities, get the latest updates and pick up the day’s headlines in the middle of a lecture. It was, and is, very quick, surprisingly easy to use and in my opinion, just as addictive as Facebook! On my TV journalism course, using Twitter is not only a tool I use to keep up to date with my peers; it has arguably become a necessity. If you aren’t on this futuristic social network, you are prehistoric! Many broadcast journalists feel that Twitter has allowed them to get closer to sources, case studies, and people they perhaps wouldn’t usually be able to contact so easily. However, over the past six months, one issue has been niggling away at me…

Can we trust Twitter?

Worry 1. We have all been warned that you shouldn’t have too much private information on Facebook, as bosses will check out employees’ profiles routinely. Risky photographs from a drunken night out or albums from holidays where you are wearing less clothes than is appropriate…. all of the above, I have been advised, should be hidden or deleted before a job interview. (That is, of course, unless you are going for an interview at Spearmint Rhino!) So why aren’t the general public as skeptical about Twitter as they are about Facebook? Surely we need to be careful what we broadcast to the world on Twitter? How can we know who reads our ‘tweets’ and who doesn’t? And if there is unhealthy goings on, is there an obvious person or organisation to report this to, if so, I cant find him or her!

Worry 2. Another important point to address is ‘are people who they say they are?’ The North African ‘pro-democracy’ leaders claim that social networks can take a lot of credit for the uprisings and demonstrations seen in Egypt and Tunisia but, surely, given the anonymity of the internet, the activists behind the upheaval just MIGHT NOT be who they say they are! Another example of this could be Adam Boulton ‘& co’….Who is ‘& co’? Who is actually tweeting us these messages we read, form opinions on and listen to? If it isn’t Adam, we certainly should be told it’s not him and credit someone else for ‘his’ words of wisdom.

Worry 3. A recent article in The Times hypothesised that the US military is developing 500 fake social networking profiles to spread propaganda in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan. The $2.76 million project will be able to set up 500 identities, operated by a total of 50 users, which could be used to infiltrate blogs and sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The US military wants to tweet reassuring messages both domestically and in troubled Middle Eastern states in the hope of spreading calm amongst its national citizens and those of Iraq and Afghanistan. How, then, are we as journalists supposed to believe the information that we are being fed? And, how are the general public supposed to believe what they are being told, if, factually, such information is not sound and is entwined with conspiracy theories.

We all know that when we log on to someone’s Facebook page and read their ‘updated status’ that there is no guarantee that it is that person writing it, but there is something about Twitter which leads us to believe that there is a level of sophistication and professionalism. We all recognise that social media in online journalism is here to stay and Twitter has played a major part in the recognition of online resources, BUT it still begs the question ‘Can we trust Twitter news?’

‘Can we trust the news’ was actually a lecture given at Oxford University by Professor Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds. His lecture discusses lecture whether or not we can trust the news, and indeed can we trust those who are ‘better informed’ than us at all? He also discusses why it is so important for a democratic society to have trust between the Media and Citizens. Trust in the news is crucial in a democratic society and though I realise Twitter is a platform not a paper, if we can’t trust Twitter… CAN ‘social media in online journalism’ really be substantial enough to stand the test of time…?

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