How Reliable Is Twitter?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Twitter is increasingly used by average citizens to share breaking news and information before typical journalists, but how reliable is this method of shared intelligence?

In a piece by The Root's Natalie Hopkinson, the author discussed the availability of immediate news updates and the ability to hear one person's voice quickly and succinctly. However, Hopkinson pointed out some major flaws with Twitter's reliability as a news source.

Though one can receive immediate information from others on Twitter, the reliability of said information is questionable. Anyone and everyone can say exactly what they want, and it is up to readers to decipher what is accurate or relevant.

But how is this different from all the other media we encounter? To exist in a society where we are innundated with information on everything under the sun, we need to be capable of critically examining what concepts and ideas we embrace.

We have developed different ways to hone in on the information that is relevant and valuable. For instance, we are used to examining sources when considering information: every student has been warned away from using Wikipedia because of its communal but largely unsubstantiated knowledge. However, with a medium like Twitter this becomes difficult to do.

Twitter offers its users a sentence and a photo to identify themselves. Unless if a user is linked to a source who is already considered reputable in our minds (ex. a name brand or news organization we recognized before Twitter), the opinions or statements of that user are considered unreliable.

Hopkinson cites the incident when someone yelled, "You lie!" during Obama's speech to Congress last September. In moments, Twitter users had identified the man as Rep. Joe Wilson, gave his phone number and listed his Web site. Another link was produced giving readers the opportunity to donate funds to his political oponent.

Hopkinson reflects on this scenario and wonders what might have happened if Wilson hadn't been the culprit. If Wilson was identified, even wrongly, the same immediate consequences would result. Twitter users are not subject to any official censorship if the information they report happens to be incorrect. With mediums like Twitter and Wikipedia, the only fact-checkers are other citizens. Is this enough?


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