Twitter and the discerning citizen journalist

Twitter and citizen journalistm

No Fibs relies on social media to broadcast our news. In particular, we are a Twitter experiment.

The wonder of social media is that it enables us to disseminate news quickly – very quickly.

Its inherent danger is that is also encourages citizen journalists to spread false information quickly – very quickly.

As a citizen journalist your credibility is 100% dependent on your accuracy. Your readers must be able to trust your work and the authenticity of your sources.

So how do you check the accuracy of information you find on Twitter?

The link above leads to an excellent interview with University of British Columbia educator Alfred Hermida on ABC Radio National’s Media Report.

Here is a brief list of Dr Hermida’s insights into the use of Twitter as a news source:

1. Information that is correct spreads gradually and is spread by people with a significant and existing network of followers.

2. Conversely, information that is incorrect will most likely initially spread slowly because the source has few followers, then spike when someone credible retweets. A surge in Tweets is no indication of the reliability of the information.

3. Follow the digital trail:

How many followers does the source have?

How long has the Twitter account been in operation?

Check their digital trail – do they mention in previous tweets the town or city in which they claim to live?

Spam accounts are most likely to have been set up after news breaks.

Hoax accounts that appear to be credible can also be ‘verified’ and followed by genuinely credible people – followers and verification are no indication of the authenticity of an account.

4. In an emergency or natural disaster, information that is correct is likely to be loaded with typos, errors and spelling mistakes. When this information is retweeted by journalists, it is highly unlikely to contain simple errors.

Humans are masters of information illusion.

Verify before you amplify!

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  1. To me, the best and only rule of thumb with regard to any Twitter (or blog site) information is corroboration, regardless of whether the account may be new or the owner has a high profile. I don’t automatically believe a thing I read on Twitter, including that offered by credentialed journalists. My experience has been that Twitter has a strange effect on the professionalism of some journalists.

    Mind you, I don’t automatically believe what I read in formal news stories unless I’ve corroborated the “information”; such is my cynicism.

    I think it’s also beyond contention that the explosion of the Twitterverse and various political blog sites has meant that the lines between actual journalism, fact, opinion, assertion and gossip have been significantly blurred, partly unconsciously and partly, in my view, by design. I believe robust and candid discussion of this dynamic and the dynamics of the “new media” is imperative.

    • Skepticism is not a dirty word in media studies DR. You’re not cynical but realistic. From my reading it seems we ARE now getting that ”robust and candid discussion.” There’s an excellent item from The Conversation I RTd on my @wired_we Tue 10/12 for example. As for my own thoughts, Authenticity is the biggest number. Plus a focus on public policy which ignores 90% of the so-called social and just skims culture of complaint/entitlement protest or special pleading. Biggest reason for selectiveness is of course the sheer volume of information, news, claims and science. Cheers from post industrial retailing and largely ineffective services town Adelaide..

      • The issues I have with the “left” blogosphere are too numerous for me to list here. Maybe I should do a piece on the subject for my new blog; God knows it could use some content.

        One of those issues is that of the authors of political blogs being labelled “journalists”. It really sticks in my craw. No, not the craw, the craw. Perhaps I’m being picky about it, but I think it’s symptomatic of a larger malady.

        I certainly share the feeling that something is amiss with modern mainstream journalism, but I don’t feel it’s got anything to do with a diminution of the craft, per se, but rather the failings of the business models and editorial persuasions under which journos are having to operate.

        Journalism is a profession. You don’t get to think of yourself, call yourself, or passively allow yourself to be referred to as a journalist just because you write for a political blog. I absolutely respect the No Fibs approach to the issue. Wishing to have everyday folk engage in journalistic work whilst maintaining standards which allow the term “journalism” to be used with authenticity is a fantastic model.

        Obviously the quality of what individual blogs offer varies from author to author and the type of material they’re presenting, but I’m finding that there’s an uncritical and intellectually lazy attitude that’s hovering like a dark, foreboding cloud over the political blogopshere. I know it has a lot to do with the delight people feel at having their own views mirrored back at them, but it creates a disturbingly passive readership in my view. In such an environment it’s far easier to pass off opinion as fact and have it passively accepted as such.

        My feeling is that since the blogosphere and Twitter have emerged, “apocrypha” has become the political soup du jour and it’s becoming increasing difficult to differentiate it from fact (I’d go so far as to suggest there’s an increasing willingness to not even try).

        Perhaps I’m just being paranoid and it’s always been that way.

      • Hear! Hear! Dan. My sentiments exactly – and this is one of the numerous small problems that impact on the standard of mainstream journalism. Journalists are skilled at their craft. It’s not just political bloggers who are guilty of being self-professed journalists but ‘writers’ published in mainstream media also claim this crown. These writers are usually much cheaper than journalists and have swallowed up the rapidly diminishing space available for journalists for years now.

        Another issue is the employment of bright young journos fresh out of college – they’re cheap and they’re without newsroom mentors. This also impacts on the quality of mainstream journalism.

        At No Fibs, we draw a big line between journalists and citizen journalists. We recognise these are not the same animal. And yes, we require our CJs to abide by the MEAA Journalists’ Code of Ethics. I’m sure you’ve read our media training materials – which are not token offerings. They are mandatory standards.

        Interested readers will find them here

      • Stephanie,

        As you know credentialed journalists receive training across various disciplines; short of that, the application of reasonable ethical and literary standards for “citizen journalists” is a pretty good alternative and compromise. I suppose to some extent it’s about the difference between wanting to inform, and merely wanting to influence.

        I would suck as a paid journalist, partly because I don’t have the discipline for it, but also because I have no capacity to write simply to fill a space. I haven’t written anything for AIMN for some time now. I can’t think of what to write that hasn’t been said and I’m not really one for writing to the crowd for the sake of the applause.

        Serious journalism, especially investigative journalism, is expensive, It’s quite resource heavy. Opinion is cheap. It’s not surprising that mainstream media news services have increasingly embraced a commentariat type of philosophy. Apart from anything else, I feel it sets a bad example. There’s an important role, of course, for social and political commentators in the media, but it’s getting harder to tell who’s a journo and who’s a taking head.

        Maybe I should ask Bob Ellis; he’s bound to know.

  2. Aahhhh, the hierarchy of language for the watchful heart:

    * discernment – the ability to pierce veils, observe and report what you see with a strong heart;
    * scepticism – a frown as the mind imposes its predetermined ideals upon the subject;
    * cynicism – the realm of the bitter heart who cannot separate its own disappointments and/or disempowerment and/or exclusion from the subject.

    No Fibs is a discerning experiment.