The landscape of the ’24 Hour News Cycle’ changed forever when social media came to be. Traditional news reporting outlets are quickly losing ground to the convenience and immediacy of social media in our always-connected world.
World news – whether it’s good, bad, or ugly, can be disseminated in a matter of minutes with the aid of social media. In most cases, Twitter is the propagation method of choice since it is simple, quick, and available (nearly) worldwide. More often than not, news broken on Twitter will spread rapidly and often source news to major TV news outlets, sometimes with little regard for accuracy.
Social media has nearly unlimited reach. There are an estimated 250 million monthly active users on Twitter, tallying nearly 500 million Tweets per day. Add the fact that 78% of Twitter users are using the service on a mobile device and it equals one huge ‘self-service’ news-reporting agency. Twitter has revolutionized global news delivery and consumption, often times breaking stories before the mainstream media can. Twitter opens up communication and reporting streams to areas that might be too dangerous or simply inaccessible by traditional means, i.e. a field reporter and camera crew. Twitter is also available in 35+ languages, making it a truly global service.
The beauty of this social network lies in its simplicity. Billed as a ‘micro blogging’ service when it was introduced back in 2007, Twitter has not strayed much in terms of ease of use and basic functionality. Even in country’s that have banned the network, users are still able to gain access by send out tweets via text message. At the core of Twitter’s simplicity is the consistent user experience over the years. Twitter has not changed much in terms of overall design and functionality, which has largely eliminated the possibility of users ditching the service due to unwarranted and unwanted design changes (see Facebook).
Turkish users: you can send Tweets using SMS. Avea and Vodafone text START to 2444. Turkcell text START to 2555.
— Policy (@policy) March 20, 2014
Unlimited Access and Instant Gratification
As mentioned previously, 78% of Twitter users use the service from a mobile device, which means that news and events can be inconspicuously reported without the need for a cumbersome news crew or even a computer. The most incredible example of Twitter breaking world news in a remote area with limited access to traditional media was the 2011 raid that took down Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. A citizen who lived near Bin Laden compound in the city of Abbottabad, Pakistan inadvertently live-Tweeted the raid by Seal Team 6 that took down one of the most notorious figures of the last decade:
This was a landmark moment for Twitter. The world was receiving by-the-minute updates on a top-secret mission to capture the man who was the most wanted man in the world for over 10 years.
Wrong News Travels Fast
One of the main criticisms of Twitter in terms of news delivery is the lack of editorial control and accuracy. When a user who is on the scene of a crisis or event is firing away Tweets to the world, there’s nothing in place to ensure the information is accurate. There are no fact checkers making sure that the news being reported is indeed accurate or appropriate, such as the community set-up that is used for fact checking for Wikipedia. This problem gets compounded when traditional news outlets rely on Twitter to report news. When the Boston Marathon was attacked with bombs in April of 2013, news spread fast and alleged suspects were being named in the early hours following the event. Twitter was a catalyst (along with Reddit) of false information. Traditional news media outlets are constantly competing with each other to be the first to break a story or divulge new information, often times with little regard for the facts.
Police react in aftermath of explosion #bostonmarathon #boylstonst (John Tlumacki photo) pic.twitter.com/pfgPjcPZAZ
— Boston Globe Sports (@BGlobeSports) April 15, 2013
This Tweet cast an unforgettable image of the Boston Marathon bombing.
Along with misrepresenting facts, Twitter also helped spread false stories and conspiracy theories regarding the bombing, suspects, and victims. One year after the attack, Boston.com outlined all that Twitter got wrong during the event, and provided some perspective to how far off the rails Twitter can take us during a crisis event. The bottoms line is this, Twitter has completely changed how we consume news. Twitter has turned anyone with a phone and an account into a field journalist. The burden of responsible reporting falls into the hands of the news reporting agencies that receive information from Twitter and work to confirm these reports.