Late last night I was flipping through the channels on TV and being that I am a total multi-tasker, I also had my laptop open and was switching between the two mediums. Around 10pm (PST), posts began to pop up on my Twitter and Facebook feeds with short messages saying things like, “OMG what’s happening in Boston?” I immediately clicked on CNN and then MSNBC on my TV to see, but there was nothing new there, no “breaking news,” nada.
I went back to my Twitter feed, plugged in the search “Boston,” and a flow of tweets flooded in. Details, reports and many, many assumptions were being made about what was happening. Some of my Facebook friends were impressed by the power of social media during this important national news event. Fellow blogger Whit Honea wrote, “If you aren’t on Twitter now is the time to join. The news coverage happening on there re: Boston/Watertown is amazing.” Another wrote, “Man, Twitter is doing SUCH a better job of covering this than the TV news. Not even close.” But was the news “better” or just faster?
There are issues with Twitter that are unavoidable. First off, there is only so much information that can be shared after being dwindled down to 140 characters. Second, anyone can send out a tweet. There is no due diligence, no journalist integrity, and no time to get the facts straight (or right). But as someone who has been seduced by the immediate, getting news in the moment high, I totally get it. There were people in Boston tweeting about hearing sirens, that cell phone service has been suspended and a whole bunch of people tweeting about how what was transpiring on the Boston police scanners. During last night’s chaos, those scanners became the number one news source for Twitter “reporters.” But there is a big issue with using the police scanners as a valid news source beyond for the basic facts.
Slate’s Will Oremus in his piece “Dear Police Scanner, Don’t Believe Everything You Read on Twitter” wrote, “In this case, the false information that Twitter was getting from the scanner was actually false information that the police on the scanner had gotten from Twitter, closing the false-information feedback loop.”
Oremus continued saying:
“The police scanner, like Twitter itself, is often a source of unconfirmed information. That doesn’t make it useless. But it does highlight the absurdity of saying that a rumor floating around on the Internet has been “confirmed” by police on the radio. It’s really not much different than saying that a rumor floating around on the police scanner has been “confirmed” by people using Twitter.”
And last night all sorts of false reports infected Twitter from the wrong names being attributed to the bombers to a fake Twitter account being created for one of the suspects. Jon Hurwitz (director of the Harold & Kumar films) said it best when he jokingly tweeted, “Shocked the Internet got it wrong last night. If we can’t trust anonymous people online, who can we trust?”
But with all its faults, Twitter is a community and in times like this, community is of the utmost importance. While Boston is in lock-down, with residents asked not to leave their homes, they are reaching out in other ways such as using social media. Tweets range from singer/songwriter Juliana Hatfield tweeting, “I fell asleep to the sound of helicopters overhead and woke up to this on my front door--whoa,” to informational with tweets from the Boston Police like, “
#CommunityAlert: Residents of Watertown reminded 2 stay indoors as search for 2nd suspect … continues.”
What do you think of Twitter in times like this? Is it useful or irresponsible?