Reckless behavior on social media can damage a publisher’s brand and doesn’t deserve any special journalistic privilege.
Farhad Manjoo, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, went so far as to implore journalists to “never tweet” because “Twitter is ruining American journalism.” He was writing in response to the news media’s rush to judgment after a video clip purporting to show a standoff between white high-school kids and an elderly Native American man at a protest march went viral.
“At first, the Twitter mob went after the kids from Covington Catholic High School. Then, as more details of the incident emerged, a mob went after the people who’d gone after the kids,” Manjoo wrote. “No one won; in the end the whole thing was little more than a divisive, partisan mess.”
I agree that the incident was embarrassing for the news media, but that doesn’t mean Twitter is ruining journalism.
I’m a big fan of Twitter. The platform provides unfiltered access to many news makers, and it’s a good resource to monitor current trends. I first turn to Twitter to see what people are saying about news.
If Twitter didn’t exist, it would have to be invented. Even the NYT’s Manjoo acknowledges quitting the platform is impossible in today’s news business.
That’s not to say Twitter is without its flaws. Disinformation, anonymous trolls and automated bots proliferate on Twitter despite the company’s efforts to curb such activity. Twitter wants to be a “brand-safe” platform that’s free of hate speech, terrorist propaganda and child porn.
Speaking of objectionable content, it’s amazing how many journalists betray their personal biases about events and people in the news. In many cases, those tweets undermine standards of journalistic objectivity and lead readers to doubt a publication’s claims of editorial fairness.
That dynamic harms a publisher’s brand. Twitter isn’t as damaging to journalism as journalists are.
More than ever, social-media users need to find sources they can trust for reliable information. Like a loaded gun, Twitter needs to be handled with care and proper respect. It has tremendous power to weaponize information, but also to provide a public good.