When a big event occurs, Twitter has become the go-to source for up to date information. I see two problems with relying on Twitter in such situations.
The Sensitivity Issue
There is always someone who feels obliged to monitor other people’s tweets for “sensitivity” to an event. Often someone will berate a tweeter for tweeting something that is unrelated to the hot topic of the day as if it was a social gaffe.
It’s as if a news event is the only thing anyone can be thinking about. Bombings, explosions, tornadoes, shootings, deaths, protests – yes, those things are important. There are people who hang on to TV news, read every tweet, and generally dwell for hours inside the drama during an event. And they tweet and retweet everything they see about the news of the day.
The problem is when they demand that everyone else do exactly the same thing.
A culture has grown around this phenomenon of single-mindedness during a breaking news event. That culture dictates that you shouldn’t show an interest in anything but the event or you will be branded insensitive, unaware, uncool, and out of touch. People respond to this social ostracism by shutting down scheduled tweets, keeping silent about whatever normal life they are living in deference to the news, and not tweeting except retweets of the day’s news.
I think this culture of “sensitivity” is a problem. Sometimes the news is so painful (for example, the Newtown shootings) that even thinking about it, much less obsessively tweeting and retweeting about it, is damaging to the soul. Tuning out and attending to normal life is a defense against the pain. People should be allowed to respond to horrific events this way, and should not be labeled idiots for tweeting about something unrelated. There’s no one right way to react to news.
The Misinformation Issue
It’s human to be interested in dramatic events. On Twitter, it’s human to retweet things that relate to an ongoing event.
We end up with a flood of tweets, many unverified and unchecked, that spread misinformation with the remarkable power of the retweet.
I’m not suggesting that people on the scene with real information should not tweet. I’m not suggesting that early reports such as “there was an explosion during the Boston Marathon” should not be retweeted. I am suggesting that retweeting everything without evaluating whether or not it is true is a problem.
Indiscriminate retweeting overwhelms people who are trying to sift out the truth from a flood of rumors, errors, and misinformation. Even worse, rumors and errors get picked up by major media – TV and radio news mention these things as if they were actual news. Granted, major media is acting no better that a Twitter user who retweets without vetting information in this situation. There may be thousands of tweets per second during big news events. Think of the manpower needed by a news organization or police department to sift through all those tweets trying to verify the truth, or find the right lead.
What I am suggesting is that concentrating exclusively on dramatic news events creates issues with an overwhelming flood of bad information among the valuable information.
If you don’t really know what’s going on, why retweet as if you do? Why not keep silent about the event instead? Why not (gasp) tweet about your normal life even in the midst of the media circus?
The Twitter culture of framing anyone who isn’t “sensitive” to the news as an idiot or a fool needs to stop. Judging others is akin to bullying and isn’t the business of the Twitter culture police.