From the New York Times: A tale of two Twitters

Nick Bilton with the Times has some very interesting things to say here about how Twitter did not actually contribute to producing an accurate picture of events in Ferguson.

What I “saw” were thousands of one-sided accounts, many of which were grossly inaccurate. And I was reminded that when it comes to real time and social media, more is definitely less.

No one will argue that Twitter played an imperative role in ensuring that the events in Ferguson led to an international debate about police violence and race in America. But it was also responsible for creating and perpetuating numerous falsehoods. What’s worse, Twitter users sought out and shared accounts that aligned with their viewpoint, with little regard to whether they were true.


Love to know what you think about this. Be the first! Comment below!

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16 Responses to From the New York Times: A tale of two Twitters

  1. kmnr43 says:

    I agree. Twitter is great when you want to hear different opinions about a news story, but when it comes to knowing the facts, twitter can get in the way of deciphering fact from opinion/viewpoint.

  2. srmh4 says:

    I think accuracy is what separates the citizen journalists from the professional journalists. One of the difficulties of using twitter, is that it produces an immense amount of information quickly and it can be difficult and sometimes overwhelming to decipher what’s true from what’s not. Everyone wants to be the first to report a story, but the information is useless, if it’s not accurate.

  3. Thursday in lecture, we briefly discussed how one of the problems with Twitter is the lack of context it provides. I think this article ties in with that idea. When someone tweets something in real time about a news event like Ferguson, whether they’re a journalist or a casual bystander, they rarely have enough characters to “set the scene” or give any sort of background, either on the situation or on themselves and their biases/points of view. They tweet what they can fit in 140 characters, and sometimes the truth gets “left on the cutting room floor,” as Matt Pearce is quoted to say in this article. While scrolling through their feed, many Twitter users forget about the lack of context and take each tweet at face value. And so inaccuracies and one-sided accounts are perpetuated.

    Another interesting point brought up in the article is that many people seek out tweets that contain information that aligns with their own opinions, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Makes sense, but once again, perpetuates falsehoods.

    Interesting read.

  4. Karol Ilagan says:

    I agree, too. And it could even be a tale of three, four Twitters. It’s tricky because I think Twitter’s usefulness in terms of getting information out as quickly as possible is in itself a downside. “Thinking before you clicking” applies not only to those who tweet but also those who consume these tweets.

  5. zhouhang92 says:

    I think for normal Twitter users, they tweet to participate in the discussion and hope others can response. They want attention and communication. It’s not their duty to check and deliver the facts. So they choose what they believe is truth to tweet and ignore those they don’t believe. Even though those they don’t believe may actually be the facts.

    • reedkath says:

      I think you’re probably right. And what implications does that have for actual journalists on Twitter?

      • zhouhang92 says:

        I think actual journalists can help normal users to verify those tweets, like Matt Pearce did in the article. Also they themselves should be more careful before tweeting and retweeting to avoid misleading others.

  6. griffinmatis says:

    Twitter tends to follow the same path as most internet discussion (like on tumblr, reddit and so on). One side explodes and drowns out any dissenting remarks. The interesting thing is seeing which side blows. For Ferguson, tumblr seemed to gravitate to reblogging other instances of police killing black teens and details from Brown’s family. Reddit seemed to head more for the “he was a thug and was attacking the police/high-strung after the robbery” angle. It’s especially prominent when it’s discussion without identity.

  7. Is the point of the article the fact that Twitter has too many people who are biased, ill-informed and irrational and therefore, to quote you, don’t “actually contribute to producing an accurate picture of events in Ferguson”? No shit. Isn’t that the story of the internet?

  8. Evy Yizhu says:

    We cannot only blame twitter users for “like-minded views” and “one-sided inaccuracy”. Although users are generating contents, they are still audience and readers. The way they report on twitter reflects how they understand and interpret information, no matter complete or fractional. Journalists should act as “opinion leaders” based on unbiased information.
    It is social media who strengthen the “twitter loop”. Social media is not news agencies. Every service from social media is customized and personalized. Those who twitter recommends to me must be similar to me in some aspects, which is highly likely to lead to similar opinions. That’s how they serve users and make profits. This process is so smooth and natural that users can hardly think critically, thus I think it is not unethical if users tend to be one-sided on social media.

  9. Kasia says:

    I sat in on a meeting between leaders of different black student groups after the Hands Up Don’t Shoot photo challenge, and they had a conversation about whether they should trust “The Media” or Twitter users. They came to an opposite consensus–that since Twitter users are citizens on the ground, they give perspective and coverage of events that major news outlets have intentionally chosen to ignore. I think Bilton points out how this understanding of news coverage is problematic, but another productive conversation would be breaking down why people have such distrust in journalists in the first place. Anyway, it’s interesting that these two entities Us (“The Media,” professional journalists) and Them (Twitter users, citizens) are pitted against each other either way. Should we be speaking about these outlets of information in terms of a simple dichotomy? I don’t think so.

    • reedkath says:

      Oh, dear. This is bad news. But not surprising. We should talk about this problem of the perception of “the media” in class. I blogged about it this past summer (scroll down on this blog to the post that has “F*** you” in it. 🙂 I apologize for that person’s language.

  10. I think too many people use Twitter as their news source. A lot of people are guilty of it, I am too sometimes but Twitter is great for quick facts but you should take those quick facts and log onto CNN or another major news source to get correct information and enough context. Twitter, like most social media sites is a stem for argument over who thinks who is right or wrong and usually strays from the point of the news.

  11. mpatston says:

    Stupidity has a strong gravity

  12. I completely agree with katiejohns2150. Twitter makes me feel like people will LITERALLY believe anything they read, without questioning it. As soon as the reader comes across something that fits their opinion on a topic, they will re-tweet it, even if they aren’t sure if it’s true. #Ferguson has left the entire Twitter community confused as to what is true and what is false. People are mostly just concerned about what “side” they are on. They don’t care if they’re misinformed, as long as their side is winning. People feel like they are being lied to and that just makes them more angry. The incident would have been easier for the world to comprehend if people actually branched out and got their facts from reliable sources instead of only relying on Twitter. It’s like digging in the trash and thinking every piece you find is a treasure.

  13. annierees says:

    I loved some of the things that Greg Moore said about using Twitter in the midst of covering breaking news (like Ferguson).

    In his Q&A session as part of the Gerald Boyd Lectureship series on Friday, Moore talked about how inherently difficult it is to be “on the ground” in a crisis because larger perspective is often impossible. You’re not in a position to be able to see the full picture, or to see how the event is being covered by different media outlets, or what narrative is being created nationally. Even if you’re tweeting exactly what you’re seeing, there’s an extent to which your reporting is limited.

    It’s certainly very important for citizens and journalists alike to tweet about events that are occurring around them — we’ve seen Twitter used in crucial ways all over the world. Falsified information is more and more of a problem on Twitter, but even removing tweets that are intentionally wrong or misleading, observational accounts will, by nature, mislead people who look to Twitter solely as their news source. Twitter IS a useful tool and can be a critically important way of getting information and finding sources, but as we talked about in class, context is impossible in 140 characters.

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