After the wake of the Associated Press’ Twitter incident this week, I got to thinking about how much content has changed because of technology. All aspects of content have evolved from the physical context to how we receive and share it. Did you know that 87% of people sharing content never check the source before they retweet or share it? It makes me wonder if we are sacrificing credibility for convenience.
For those of you that have been living under a rock for the past week, here is what went down with one of the nation’s largest newswires, the Associated Press:
The @ap Twitter account has been suspended after it was hacked. The tweet about an attack on the White House was false.
— AP Stylebook (@APStylebook) April 23, 2013
The account was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army trying to spread their pro-Assad anti-America message. Implications of this tweet quickly extended all the way to Wall Street. In less than a minute, the Dow plummeted more than 150 points, the price of crude oil fell, and several other investments dropped significantly. The White House even had to make a statement reassuring the safety of the president and American people.
An underlying question has arisen from this situation: Who is responsible for insuring credibility?
Twitter as a content medium is relatively new and holds little precedence or norms. There is no proof that any piece of content sent from an account was actually executed by the alleged source. Yet, people seem to drink the Kool-aid and even share the cup, blurring rumors with facts and spreading misinformation across the web like wildfire.
The Cup is Half Empty
Twitter is widely thought of as a collective entity rather than what it actually is; a platform for individual opinions. This is a dangerous assumption because we are recognizing information as reported by “Twitter” and not the individual account. This can explain why we assume credibility. After all, Twitter is one of the most powerful companies on the internet, it is only logical to equate power with credibility.
Twitter, like everything else, is not without its faults. Individuals can create their own accounts mimicking that of a credible source, spreading slander and inaccurate information across the web.
Just spent amazing time with Colbert!Is he sane? He is cool! #cgiu
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 6, 2013
Another unfortunate characteristic of tweets is that they are not always fleeting. Once the post button is hit, the tweet then becomes property of the web and there is no way to predict what will catch steam.
Relying on social media sites like Twitter as a resource for news can greatly diminish the quality of information received. Twitter only allows 140 characters in a single tweet which does not equate to a lot of statistics or facts per story. There is also the constant struggle to break the story first, which often leads to the posting of stories with rumored information.
For example. Missing Brown University student (since passed), Sunil Tripathi, had been misidentified as a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing last week through the spreading of rumors over social media sites.
The Cup is Half Full
Even though Twitter has a lot of flaws, it is still an extremely valuable resource for breaking news. What Twitter may lack in credible proof it makes up for in convenience as well as diversity.
— Barry Malone (@Barry_Malone) February 15, 2013
The fact that Twitter does not require any approval before posting is a double edged sword. Yes, sometimes the content may be inaccurate, but when it is correct, the stories, images, and videos are given to people in real-time with raw emotion. This is unprecedented in the news industry and makes every story feel like “breaking” news.
Twitter also allows people to follow a variety of different niches, instead of forcing them to read one specific newspaper or watch a skewed news channel. The ability to diversify the intake of content opens up possible information that would probably never be uncovered otherwise. Twitter also offers up a plethora of content with many of tweets linking to more information if you find a topic interesting enough to peruse.
Twitter and other social media sites have revolutionized the way we see and interact with content. It is a much more intuitive medium that serves up its handful of both mistakes and triumphs. When utilizing these social outlets for information, please take heed knowing that Twitter is a caucus of mostly biased “reporters.”
I encourage everyone to practice due diligence before they share or believe any piece of content on these social sites, because misinformation can spread like school-yard gossip.