Twitter: Changing the way things work

19 Mar

By: Gabriela Gonzalez

The new tool that has aided social justice, protest, the spread of information and changed the way media works; Twitter.

What is Twitter? According to Jodi Sperber, it is a free service that allows you to send and receive messages of 140 characters or less. Each message is called a “tweet.”

Sperber also said, “The title is a play on the Hebrew phrase tikkunolam, which means ‘repairing the world.’ This concept is bound tightly to integrity within the Jewish faith, encouraging us to challenge the pursuit of money and power, and instead work toward love, kindness, generosity, peace, non-violence and social justice.”

Mathew Ingram said, “The reality is that, for all its flaws, Twitter is a publishing tool, and an increasingly powerful one. And it can be used by anyone, journalist and non-journalist alike.”

He continued saying, “In fact, earlier this year researchers looked at the flow of content on the network and found that Twitter is far more of a news medium than it is a traditional social network.”

Twitter continues what blogging started. It puts in the citizen’s hands, those formerly known as the audience, the power to publish and become a part of the discussion, he said.

Let us take a look at the power of Twitter; its strengths and weaknesses.

Strength: Mobilizes people

Twitter has been known to aid in the mobilization of people and protests. After a presidential election gone wrong in Moldova in 2009, Twitter helped mobilize 10,000 protesters. According to Ethan Zuckerman, one cannot attribute all of the Arab Spring’s success to the Internet. He said the uprising in Tunisia began long before they went to Twitter to mobilize. The only difference was that people around the world were preoccupied with other things such as protests in Iran and the shooting in Arizona.

Zuckerman said, “We’ll discover that online media did play a role in helping Tunisians learn about the actions their fellow citizens were taking and in making the decision to mobilize. How powerful and significant this influence was will be something that academics will study and argue over for years to come.”

Strength: Raising awareness and reaching a wider sphere of influence

A woman, Elaine Ellis, whose bike was stolen in Boulder, Colo., found her bike and its thief by posting a photo on Twitter, said Vanessa Miller, of the Daily Camera website.

This raised awareness and those who followed her helped her find her bike.

Miller said, “Ellis, like a growing number of today’s crime victims, decided to employ social media to help do her own detective work. Legal experts say members of the public who can navigate popular social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook now have access to some of the same methods law enforcement utilizes to crack cases.”

Ellis, the victim of the crime, said, “It was amazing how quick it was. I think Twitter has the potential to be the new Amber Alert for crimes because the community — in Boulder, especially — is so interested in helping out the rest of the community.”

Miller said law enforcement groups are training law enforcement officers to use social media. “Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett said his office doesn’t have any major cases ‘where we don’t investigate whether there is social media evidence available to us.’”

“People tend to be unguarded on Facebook,” Garnett said. “People tend to say what they think, and that can often be helpful to the prosecution in a criminal case.”

Strength: Journalism gets a new dimension

Paul Farhi, a Washington Post reporter,  said: “Twitter can be a serious aid in reporting. It can be a living, breathing tip sheet for facts, new sources and story ideas. It can provide instantaneous access to hard-to-reach newsmakers, given that there’s no PR person standing between a reporter and a tweet to a government official or corporate executive. It can also be a blunt instrument for crowdsourcing.”

Craig Kanalley, of the Poynter Insitute, said Twitter can be used in journalism to: customize, making lists and followings lists; discovery of things you never heard about and curation or sorting by topic.

Mallary Jean Tenore’s 10 ways Twitter can help a journalist are the following: to get people to see your story, to start conversations, to give your audience a behind-the-scenes glance, to find sources and story ideas, to capture reactions, to find local sources, to look at the past, to help your audience track a story, to collaborate with others and to build your credibility.

Weakness: Fact checking required

Paul Farhi tells of a Washington Post book critic, Ron Charles, who posted this on his Twitter, from an anonymous source:  “Frequent contributor tells me the New Yorker is considering switch to biweekly or monthly. Recession pains.”

This was what happened: “I just threw it out there,” Charles said. “It was a careless, journalistically irresponsible thing to do.” Within 10 minutes, he said, “it seemed like the whole Internet went crazy. It was terrifying.”

Farhi said, “Mark Briggs answers that reporters are obligated to uphold ethical standards even while casually tweeting. ‘Whatever you put out there doesn’t have to be triple checked, but it can’t be reckless or inaccurate, either,’ he says. ‘You also have to respect other people’s work. Don’t take credit for it if it’s not yours.’”

Weakness: Politics and social media don’t mix

People are not going to the Internet for political news. Most people get their politic fix from the television news outlet. A Pew Reaserach Center for the People and the Press study showed a decline in the overall interest in the campaigns themselves. It seems no one cares, and they definitely aren’t keeping tabs on the elections through Twitter or Facebook.

Despite declining interest, Barak Obama had 100 staff working on his campaign on social media, such as Twitter, according to The Economist. This is not just a U.S. thing, but Sebastián Piñera, the newly elected president of Chile, also asked all of his cabinet members to start tweeting. So the politicians obviously think this is the way to reach the people. Pretty much all of the French presidential candidates are also tweeting.

Weakness: It exposes opinion

This may not be a general weakness, but for journalists it is. There is a big debate behind the ethics of whether Twitter reveals bias.

Mathew Ingram said to Business Week: “By pretending that their journalists don’t have opinions when everyone knows they do, mainstream media outlets are suggesting that their viewers or readers are too stupid to figure out where the truth lies—or too thick to consider the facts of a story whose reporter happens to have retweeted someone’s comment or joined a certain Facebook page. Given this kind of treatment, many looking for news are likely to migrate to sources that admit they have views, rather than continue to be talked down to by newspapers and TV networks that pretend they are above that sort of thing.”

He adds: “The bottom line is that it would be nice if we could admit that journalists are human beings, and then come up with social-media policies that actually encourage and take advantage of it, instead of trying to stamp out any trace of humanity. Journalists would be better off. So would readers.”

I agree. Journalists are not robots. Social media is all about telling of opinion and relating to others. How is it possible to not show bias or leanings in any way? Impossible.


No one knows whether Twitter is here to stay or go, or how it will be improved. Whatever the case may be in the future, Twitter has changed how we view and interact with the world around us. It has become a tool, a platform—a weapon even. Twitter facilitates speech; speech equals freedom; with freedom comes responsibility.

Click on the following hashtag for some literary journalism using Twitter, #UFtabernacle.


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