Twitter News Fosters an Age of Inaccuracies

Michael Roe

As the social networking revolution boomed, especially with Twitter and Facebook circa 2008 and 2009, social networking websites, originally intended to serve as informal social platforms, began to develop professional undertones. Businesses started their own Twitter and Facebook pages in the hope of capitalizing on an abundant source of young consumers.

As corporations ranging anywhere from Comcast to CNN to Jet Blue began to explore the microblogging frontier, it seemed like nearly everyone had jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. Unfortunately, this also included the elderly who recently discovered how to use their computers.

The Twitter revolution had come: “tweets” flooded the Internet and television; Twitter publicity was so common that it appeared as if nearly everyone knew of the website. More importantly, the media, mainly cable news, began to use Twitter, on and off air.

Initially, television’s Twitter usage appeared innovative and informative; however, after several months of Twitter use, cable stations that microblogged revealed a reliance on the immediacy of their tweets rather than the tweets’ accuracy. Oftentimes, the “breaking news” posted by news stations’ Twitter pages was simply incorrect.

It appeared that Twitter news (Twitter pages of major news sources: CNN, MSNBC, Fox, ABC, NBC) began a race to beat the competition and publish information,  first generating a vicious cycle of competition and rivalry amongst news stations, which continued to inaccurately report news. This mentality of post first, ask questions later completely violates journalistic ethics that news stations are obligated to uphold.

As seen in televised media, the development of 24-hour news throughout the ‘90s emphasized the speed of news over its integrity. Coined the “CNN Effect” this problem was never solved. If the Twitter news problem is left unregulated, a more destructive atmosphere of careless journalism may take hold.

One of the most popular Twitter news pages is titled “Breaking News on Twitter,” or B.N.O. News. The page has an astounding 1,312,571 followers and 27,101 tweets (news posts). Its objective as a news outlet is to “report breaking news and developing stories faster than the mainstream media.” A mission statement that focuses on timeliness rather than objectivity and accuracy is not acceptable.

One rather humorous yet significant example of Twitter acting as a commonplace for inaccurate but timely news occurred when ABC representative Terry Morgan tweeted “[President] Obama just called Kanye West a ‘jackass’ for his outburst at the VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.’’

To truly understand the comment, background information regarding the context of Morgan’s quote is necessary. At MTV’s Video Musical Awards (VMAs), Taylor Swift, a popular teenage musician, began her speech after receiving “The Best Female Video” award, when hip-hop icon Kanye West stormed the stage and quipped, “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, Imma let you finish, but Beyoncé has one of the best videos of all time. One of the best videos of all time!”

To bring the story full circle, Obama commented on Kanye West’s outburst, calling him a “jackass.” While slightly unprofessional, the real problem that stemmed from Morgan’s Twitter post is that Obama’s comment was off the record; it shouldn’t have been reported.

Although Morgan realized he had made an embarrassing mistake and his comment was soon deleted, the damage had already been done. Ironically, Obama’s comment was spread throughout other Twitter pages, eventually proliferating through online and televised media.

Reform is desperately needed among Twitter news. Twitter calls for constant, oftentimes unimportant, feeds of information.  Twitter is a poisonous environment for news. If Twitter continues to report news unchecked, it must surrender claim as a reliable news source and admit its true form: a meaningless caricature of blogging.

Twitter doesn’t deserve attention, let alone the same legal protection and reputation as that of a traditional news source.  Like Kanye West once said: “Yo Twitter, I’m really happy for you and Imma let you finish, but Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein had some of the best journalism of all time.”