January 8’s tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ illustrated a few things about the modern media landscape that very few people understand and even fewer have the ability to influence. It showed the usefulness of interconnected social media platforms, it showed the power of the web for research and, most of all, it showed that too many people still don’t get Twitter.
Twitter is not a singular entity. It’s not a place to gather 100% accurate information. It is not the lifeblood of real-time communication in our country and the world, but it’s part of it. Twitter, like any medium since the telegraph, telephone, group email or mass text, is fallible. It is only as accurate or as strong as its weakest link.
And we…we are a lot of weak links. We are scared, we are curious and we are mostly unafraid to share what we’re thinking in a disconnected way. Yesterday’s shooting of AZ Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, along with six dead and ten wounded, illustrated our country’s need for each other more than any event since the last one. People didn’t turn to Twitter just for the facts, they turned to Twitter for emotional support. They turned to Twitter for catharsis. They turned to Twitter to digitally hold hands with people they weren’t and couldn’t be near.
In the face of such inhumanity by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner and possibly an accomplice, it’s important to take stock of our own humanity. We must take and hold others to a level of responsibility when it comes to sharing non-vetted facts or passing along rumors. We must demand more from each other.
Twitter is a good place to measure the temperature of public opinion. Are we outraged? Sad? Do we love something new? But it, like any other diagnosis, is incomplete without a full examination. If we also remember just where a thermometer is inserted on a body, we can better understand that sites like Twitter aren’t always the best representation of what we’re thinking, but rather feeling and we often don’t control what comes out.
My condolences to the six deceased individuals and my best wishes for those injured and the families of everyone involved. I hope we can all use these new mediums to react together, mourn together and heal together.
I hope we use them to be more human.
Excellent post. Thank you!
Wonderful comments. Thank you.
Rachel – good catch. Thanks. Fixed.
Thanks for your response. Whether I “get” Twitter or not, I’ll certainly agree that “Twitter is not a singular entity.” However, I disagree with you when you say, “It’s not a place to gather 100% accurate information. It is not the lifeblood of real-time communication in our country and the world, but it’s part of it.”
Actually Twitter IS “the lifeblood of real-time communication in our country and the world,” and as such, both the company behind it, the news organizations that use it both to gather and spread information, and the community, should all strive to make it as least fallible as it can be.
Will ever be 100% perfect? Of course not. Could it possibly be a lot better all those concerned with providing accurate and timely information work together to make it so? I believe so, and that is why I wrote the post.
If other people want to turn to Twitter for catharsis, and use it that way or any other way within Twitter’s TOS, all the power to them. What I’m concerned about, however, is providing the public the correct information in times of crisis, and for that, I think Twitter does need new Cronkites to help.
Three and half years using, and 14,000+ tweets later and still trying to get Twitter :-),
Chad – nope. The lifeblood is the connected web, not Twitter. Facebook, SMS (to a point) and blogs (with fast publishing via RSS) are where it’s at.
We overvalue Twitter, and other such crowd-sourced tools, tremendously.
I think that Twitter is not so popular and useful yet…the tweets are short (140 letters). Facebook is more useful)
This tragedy has showcased what we turn to for late-breaking information and emotional support. I agree with the point that Twitter itself is not the source to go to for verified information. However, to report on the overall raw sentiment and feelings people have, Twitter’s got it.
Take me for instance. You all probably know I tweet a lot, but usually quiet down on weekends. But that Saturday morning, I was texted from a friend about the event. From there I turned to CNN to get a broad understanding of what’s going on. Then I picked up my phone and saw my Twitter stream.
Then, a flood of information. Mass media was reporting what Reuters reported, that Giffords was deceased. Then my Twitter said something different, she’s alive. Do I believe Reuters or KOLD-TV on Twitter? Then later, AP and NPR picked up that fact from KOLD-TV and it was true.
After several minutes, I had to ditch the phone in favor of TweetDeck just to keep up with the information. I admit, I am information-addicted and began performing my own research into the suspect Jared Loughner and was sharing this information – contributing to the noise.
In hindsight, sharing opinions based on no facts wasn’t the best thing to do when everyone is searching for answers. (e.g., References to Sarah Palin’s previously published image of targets on opposing political districts.) Many other people also shared very personal views that were not pertinent to the situation, either, and that made it much more difficult to keep up with.
However, rebuttal with the fact that constantly, Twitter was operating about 30 minutes quicker than mainstream media outlets. Even with major facts, there was a significant delay in them discussing it on TV. This lag is why I depend on Twitter for immediate news and information. Along with it, is an amount of error, but I can handle that when it’s better.
Right now, there is a lot of noise on Twitter. We need to take care in filtering it and using it constructively and remember that there is a margin of error with just about anything that gets posted.
Good post, Tyler!