Twitter has transformed how breaking news is reported. It has made getting information quick and easy. There are, however, some drawbacks to its use as a news source.
Credibility in Twitter is hard to find. Jake Coyle writes in the Huffington Post, “Just as quickly as Twitter has emerged as a news source, so, too, has its susceptibility to false rumors become abundantly apparent.” There have been many reports of celebrity deaths first published by Twitter that were not true. “Patrick Swayze, who is battling pancreatic cancer, recently had to defend that he is indeed still alive after thousands of Twitter users spread the news that he was dead,” wrote Coyle. Swayze has since passed.
An example of Twitter losing credibility was during the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. TomsTechBlog.com wrote in a post: “If you watch Twitter you’ll see people reporting an attack at the Marriott Hotel in Mumbai. The problem is there was NO ATTACK on the Marriott. The Ramada hotel next door was attacked by several gun men but nothing’s happened at the Marriott.” There are consequences to this kind of reporting. The post continues: “Now imagine if you are someone who has family or friends at the Marriott right now. You would be scared out of your mind over information that is completely false.” This corrupts news sources.
There are also problems with the format. Coyle writes: “There are no follow-up questions on Twitter if the user chooses not to hear them. When tweets replace an interview or a press conference, something is lost.” This hurts transparency and only allows for one side of the story to be told at a time. Cyclist Lance Armstrong was under fire when he used Twitter as his only primary news outlet. Coyle writes, “It’s one-sided,” said VeloNews.com editor Steve Frothingham, who is a former Associated Press reporter. “It is us just sitting there taking what he’s giving. We can’t just not ask follow-up questions, we can’t ask any questions.”
One problem Twitter is addressing is people claiming to be celebrities. Mark Suster writes in his blog, “In the early days of MySpace, blogs and even Twitter, this was a real problem because you never knew if it was the real person or not. Twitter has now solved this elegantly.” Twitter saw this problem and addressed it. Suster writes that to be sure that it is the real person one must “make sure that the top of their Twitter page says, “Certified”, which means that Twitter has verified that they are really that person.” However, this does not solve the problem completely. Suster writes, “Just because it is the “real” person doesn’t mean that they don’t have staff or ghost writers posting on their behalf.”
Twitter has revolutionized the way news has been conducted. However, Coyle writes: “But truthfulness remains the biggest problem: Those direct, near-instantaneous dispatches are far less reliable than old-fashioned journalism. News that circulates on Twitter, re-tweeted from person to person, can spread often too quickly for the tweet to be verified. False rumors spread daily on Twitter.”