Monday, June 22, 2009

Twitter in the News

This just in!

News “tweets” may come from unreliable sources!



Ok, look: a while back, I didn’t know what to make of Facebook. At first, it seemed like a sad popularity contest, but now it has essentially replaced,, MSN Messenger and my email account. So I guess you could say it’s pretty useful.

Twitter, though? The jury’s not in just yet, but right now I’m leaning towards “Eff that!”.

It would appear that the main purpose of Twitter is to send out tweets and track tweets sent out by people you care about. At 140 characters (I think), these are essentially the equivalent of Facebook status updates (chalk up another “replaces” to Facebook).

I don’t know about you, but status updates are just about the most annoying aspect of the Facebook experience (next to news feeds that include quiz results as to what vegetable your friend is most like. Wtf?! Stop with the stupid quizzes already!).

Yes, I know there’s more to Twitter than that, but it seems to me that Twitter is best used by those who are involved with marketing/PR and who care to follow strangers’ thoughts on their product or field.

Me? I couldn’t care less.

For years I’ve been arguing with people about the place of blogs in society. Blogs are one person’s opinion, venting out into cyberspace, with little or no responsibility. I wanna say that Cory Doctorow needs a bitchslap? I can do that here.

But don’t – I repeat DO NOT – try to tell me that bloggers are the same as reporters or on a par with mainstream news outlets.

The difference is simple: accountability.

Twitter, for the most part, is simply micro-blogging.

Boingboing had a post today about tweeting in Iran during all this protesting of the recent general election, and it boils down to this: people can’t make heads nor tails of what the heck is going on because there’s so much chaotic, unorganized, unreliable info coming their way.

Via Twitter?



The post reads in part:

“Several fellow passengers agreed that one of the feelings shared around the
Iran story is the sense that so much information from new, unfamiliar sources
seems to be flooding us, without good filters, or many trusted, authoritative

If only there were companies willing to organize this chaos for us and who would be held accountable for misinformation…

Wait…you mean like…this? Or this? Or this?

Just because you don’t trust your doctor 100% doesn’t mean you should be running to a shaman, folks. Carry some salt with you and you’ll be ok.

The tragedy is when these news folks start drinking the Twitter Kool-aid, as Boingboing points out:

“And overall, cable news is doing a lousy job anyway. Blowhard anchors reading
random tweets, and logging on to Facebook groups? Thanks, but I can do that
myself -- without the theatrics.”

The sad part is that in their quest for instant news, the old reliable news organizations are starting to regurgitate the unreliable stuff. And, so long as they say, “it’s being reported that…” well, they’re off the hook now aren’t they – since THEY weren’t the ones reporting it, they were just reporting that it was being reported.


You know, with all this unreliable stuff floating around via Twitter, it can’t be too long before someone tweets something irresponsible enough to warrant a lawsuit for libel.


Would tweeting to millions that a famous musician assaulted you when in fact it was someone else count?

And if you have time to tweet, dumbass, you have time to dial 911. At the very least the guy should be charged for tying up emergency phone lines.

Can we start calling irresponsible tweeters "twits"?

Yeah, you're right: "attention whores" works too.


Michelle Sullivan said...

Actually, people who tweet are already called twits...

It took me about a year to get into Twitter. At first, I was wondering why I'd want to invest in what looked like glorified post-it notes. Now, I see it as a valuable resource and invest more energy in Twitter than Facebook, for sure.


1. I can find and follow people in my network .. in my case, marketers and PR professionals interested in social media. They rarely use Twitter as a status update. They use it to discuss and exchange information and hyperlinks to interesting articles, blogposts, studies etc. You can do the same with Ultimate Fighting or whatever you like. Pick a niche. Not every niche is on there, but yours might be. Find out who is talking about what interests you through

2. I also use it to drive traffic to my blog - not everyone subscribes to my RSS feed *gasp* but my website analytics tell me they'll go when I tweet about it.

3. When I returned from Mumbai to learn that it had been attacked by terrorists while I was on the plane home, Twitter was my best source of information. Twitter search allowed me to narrow tweets down to those within a 15km radius of the city - the messages I read were from the ground. Some useless, all subject to verification from known sources like media ... but some definitely authentic, with links to photos etc. Repeat with Iran.

4. My clients use it as an extension of their customer service and to generate business by reaching out to professionals that might be interested in their product, service or cause. Yes, some people are obviously going to be annoying about this, but that's what the block feature is for. My clients use a low key approach - one client estimates that 5% of his business comes from leads generated through Twitter. One pizza company in Louisiana is generating so much business through Twitter that they've replaced the phone number on the sign outside their location with their Twitter address.

5. Many journalists on Twitter (mostly tech) prefer to receive pitches through Twitter rather than by phone or email (I would too ... the 140 character limit is a godsend to a busy journalist). Their wish is my command.

No one I know thinks Twitter replaces journalism. But there are witnesses to events ... and to history ... on Twitter, just as there are some walking the streets and being interviewed by media every day. The difference is that these witnesses a) don't need to be found by a journalist and b) don't have to make it past the cutting room floor or edits to speak to us.

Long comment .. but you knew I'd respond to this blog post, didn't you Phil?

PS said...


So...what you're saying is that it's good for PR/marketing and unfiltered news.

Check. (didn't I say that?)

Oh, and #4 - spam. Wonderful. :P

Funny quote from the creator of Twitter (while trying to come up with name): "The definition was "a short burst of inconsequential information," and "chirps from birds." And that’s exactly what the product was."

Thought this was neat, too:

As for the terminology, a Google search tells me Tweeter is the name for a Twitter user (Twitter itself refers to "Twitter user" or "Twitter person", it seems). But if you say "Twit" is the proper term, I'm happy to use it. :P

Michelle Sullivan said...

I'll ignore the dripping sarcasm and simply clarify:

1) I use Twitter to follow and exchange about something *I* happen to be interested in. That's PR and marketing. There ARE other niches. Some of those other niches are on Twitter.

2) No, not spam. My clients do not spam. Please reread minus cynical eyes: customer outreach and business development. Not spam.

While Twitter may have been developed to tell people what you're doing, it has evolved as a tool, thanks to the development of other complementary tools like tiny url, twitpic etc.

You don't have to like it, or even try it. I'm simply responding to show how it can be useful to some. Like journalists, for example. And me.

PS said...

Other niches than PR/marketing...sure. I mean, if you wanna exchange ideas with other people about recipes or something, I guess... but what other things are really useful? I mean, if I'm looking up what joe blow x1,000 has to say about the UFC, I have an awful lot of time on my hands. I could also search blogs longer than 140 characters and check news outlets. If I wanted random stuff I could go to a chat room and actually interact.

(I'm sure your clients are lovely people, but one person's "customer outreach and business development" is another person's spam.)

But the point of the post was not the usefulness of Twitter itself - I acknowledge wholeheartedly that it has uses for some folk - my problem is the use of Twitter as a NEWS SOURCE. (see the Boingboing article linked)

If I choose to follow someone, then I've established that I trust that person and that they tend to tweet useful things in my niche. But if a major event happens and suddenly a topic is flooded with random stuff from joe blow, well, where's the accountability?

And if I just want to follow my friends, well, that's what Facebook status updates are for, I guess (though those can get out of hand).

But even if my interest is to follow some celebrity's every movement (lord help those folks), I think the Perez Hilton fiasco is a good example of the stupid shit some people can do with a tool such as Twitter. Hence, "twits".

PS said...

As it turns out, Boingboing linked to this today: