Twitter: From Britney to the Israel Consulate and back to the audience

Twitter made headlines this week when it was reported that Britney Spears’s Twitter account had been hacked. (Britney’s spokesperson reiterated she did not have any such case of vagina dentata). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Barack Obama and Britney Spears’s Twitter accounts have all been hacked. Twitter is getting a reputation for being unreliable.

This is of interest when considering the use of Twitter in news reporting. Can it be used as a reliable source of information when it is unfiltered, unchecked and even victim to hackers?

Can Twitter be considered a useful tool for serious reporting? Photo by niallkennedy.

Can Twitter be considered a useful tool for serious reporting? Photo by niallkennedy.

As BBC’s Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, discussed in a lecture last month, Twitter’s user-generated content was used as a source of information in the recent Mumbai terroist attacks. (Gaurav Mishra’s blog provides a useful summary of how the Mumbai attacks were reported.)

The BBC recently admitted its mistakes in its use of Twitter, as the Guardian reports. It’s evident that media organisations are still uncertain about how best to use user-generated content. Editor of the BBC News website, Steve Herrmann commented on the BBC’s Editors blog, saying:

 

“we’re still finding out how best to process and relay such information in a fast-moving account like this.”

 

 Independent reporter, Tom Sutcliffe, commented:

“A Twitterer owes no duty except to their own impressions and own state of mind, they’ll pass on rumour as readily as fact……If the BBC doesn’t want the cynicism to grow, it should be a bit more careful about blurring the boundary between twittering and serious reporting.”

But Twitter can also help serious reporting. The Israel Consulate in New York recently organised a Twitter press conference as well as the Israel Defence Forces using YouTube to show footage of air strikes.

Twitter press conference organised by the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

Twitter press conference organised by the Consulate General of Israel in New York.

 

Head of media relations for the Israeli consulate in New York, David Saranga explained to the New York Times: “Since the definition of war has changed, the definition of public diplomacy has to change as well.”

Whilst Twitter can be seen as pointless and boring (according to the Daily Mail), it also has the potential to be an extremely useful source of information for serious reporting. (Incidentally, the Daily Mail will regret its comments after it has become the most recent victim of Twitter hijackers.)

Military spokesman, Major Avital Leibovich said:

 

“The blogosphere and the new media are basically a war zone” in a battle for world opinion.

 

Like any Web 2.0 tool, how you use it defines it.

However these tools are used, the fact remains: the ability for witnesses and citizen journalists to publish information is invaluable.

In terms of news reporting, as Herrmann continued to say in his blog, “as the story progresses, as one element of the coverage, we will select, link and label the emerging information. Further assessment, equipped with this information, is left to you.”

The role of the audience is increasingly important in the use of Web 2.0 content and is considered in an article byBBC journalist and digital media scholar, Prof. Alfred Hermida on his blog, Reportr.net.

Whilst professional journalists will be relied upon to produce quality news reports, which analyse information,the audience can no longer be a passive entity when it comes to consuming news. Just as the audience has become more active in communicating news and generating their own content, the audience now too has an active role and responsibility in considering the authenticity of user-generated content.

 

Photograph courtesy of niallkennedy is used under the Creative Commons Licence on Flickr.

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