Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Twitter News Network

The ever-present news story this week (you know, the one about that guy the U.S. has been in search of for a decade) has me thinking about the way we get out news. Almost as central to the story itself was the way the news spread. So how do I really get my news? Yes, I listen to NPR in the mornings while shaving (it's my "me time," thankyouverymuch), and sure, my personal choice in the Big Four is NBC, but where do I really get my news from first? Sad to say: Twitter.

Let me tell you my "Where Were You When Osama Died" story, in an effort to illustrate. I was working at my restaurant that fateful night. The bartender, a "seasoned vet" of the industry, came running over. He spun on me, his crackling voice tight with excitement, "Did you hear? One of the guys at the bar said they found Osama! Shot him down, too!" Knowing our bar crowd to be a proud and boastful lot I dismissed this story at first. Then I thought to check Twitter. Let me reiterate: My home base for fact checking is now a social media website. Sure enough, my feed was full of the news and Osama was a trending topic. Why didn't I turn one of the TV's to CNN? Why didn't I ask the cooks to turn the radio to NPR for a second (well, because I would have lost a finger to their butcher's knife)? Why, oh why, did I turn to Twitter?

The true power Twitter holds as a purveyor of news is, of course, in its speed. Have time to type 140 characters or less? Congrats, you've just updated the world! Now this power seems banal when you're telling the world that "Today=BORING" or that you "Just finished Dune Messiah." (full disclosure, those are both tweets of mine) But if you actually have important news to share with the world I can't think of a more effective way to quickly disperse updates. It has epidemic allure; release a tweet and if someone likes it they can push one button and re-send the message in under a second.

The news of bin Laden's death traveled the Twitter train perceptibly that night at Citizen's Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies. You could see the attendants at the game, in the ninth inning, all checking their phones. Small pockets of people began chanting "USA, USA." As more people checked Twitter on their smartphones, more began chanting. Pockets of people led to whole sections, and soon the packed stadium of 45,713 fans chanted along. Was some of this classic sports fan ramp up? Of course, but a majority of the news traveled via Twitter, hitting the stadium like the wave.

And just as soon as we see the good in the way news traveled, we were struck with misinformation. Soon after the event much of the populace began celebrating bin Laden's death. Naturally this was met with an air of discomfort by many around the world. And soon after that a "quote" by Martin Luther King Jr. began circulating. If you haven't seen this tweet in your feed than you weren't on Twitter over the past few days:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.
Did King ever say that quote? Nope. And this is the major problem with Twitter. As fast as the truth can get out is just as fast as lies, misunderstanding and misinformation gets released. Here's how it all fell apart. A young woman posted that line, her own sentiment, and then, in quotations, a quoted section of Dr. King's writing from one of his books. In a sort of confused whisper down the lane, the post from the young woman first lost any quotes at all, and then was shortened down to the sentiment above.

In the end it just feels like we have to temper everything we do these days with caution. The internet is fast beyond measure, and our power to communicate has never held so much power. I'm not going to jam the spider-man quote down your throats, but it does hit at the point. If we have the ability to immediately share a thought with thousands than shouldn't we give that thought, well... some thought?

*You can check out Charge Shot!!! tweets by following @ChargeShot and feel free to follow me @GiacoFurino (because I know you want to know more about how much I like the Dune Saga)