xi's moments
Home | Americas

Some choosing to avoid the perils of social media

By William Hennelly | China Daily Global | Updated: 2019-02-02 00:01

Perhaps some common sense is finally being exercised when it comes to journalists being tethered to that hellish den of feigned outrage — social media — in this case, Twitter.

The editor-in-chief of online news site Insider has ordered her reporters to take a week off from tweeting at work and to keep the TweetDeck dashboard app off their computer screens.

The editor, Julie Zeveloff West, said the idea is to wean journalists of their dependence on citing tweets in their stories.

I should make clear that I am on Twitter, and I think it is one of the best sites for curating one's own news delivery. You can follow as many news sites, commentators and politicians as you want, pretty much worldwide. In China Daily's case, if US President Donald Trump tweets about trade talks with China, we often will cover it.

So the issue isn't with Twitter in the main, but how some online snipers distort reality by creating a "viral" echo chamber that in some cases causes the businesses or people targeted to apologize or fire people before all the facts are in.

Sometimes, people are even fired retroactively, if you will, for tweets they made in the past, perhaps after too many drinks.

On the reporting side, there is nothing wrong with citing a tweet from someone connected to a news event. But what is grating and a form of journalistic laziness is cutting and pasting a helping of some 20 tweets into one web story.

When reading a story like that, I often think, I don't need all of this, and I really don't care what all these people think.

The addiction to Twitter and the sometimes rash decisions by journalists to join the online frenzy has led to soul-searching in some newsrooms.

Some of it was inspired by the reaction to a Jan 19 demonstration in Washington DC, involving students from a Covington, Kentucky, high school, which gained notoriety primarily because of social media outrage.

The coverage became more complicated as different details and perspectives emerged, resulting in numerous apologies and retractions from celebrities, who tend to overstate the omniscience of their opinions on news events.

The Covington story was preceded a day earlier by a BuzzFeed report that Trump instructed his lawyer to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Less than 24 hours later, the story was refuted in a rare statement from the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

"Wishful thinking took the place of thoughtful analysis and journalistic skepticism," constitutional lawyer Alan Dershowitz said in an opinion piece about the BuzzFeed incident.

To come full circle, BuzzFeed last week started announcing layoffs that were expected to eventually total 200. Some web users saw an opportunity to mock the laid-off journalists with the expression "Learn to Code", encouraging them to try computer programming as an alternative career path. The phrase was widely posted on Twitter following the announcement of layoffs at BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post.

There was talk that Twitter was taking down "learn to code" tweets because they were "abusive content", but a Twitter spokesperson said: "It's more nuanced than what was initially reported. Twitter is responding to a targeted harassment campaign against specific individuals — a policy that's long been against the Twitter Rules."

The website Know Your Meme noted that on Feb 10, 2014, BuzzFeed News ironically published a quiz titled "Should You Learn to Code?"

"Twitter offers an endless stream of faux events," The Washington Post's David Von Drehle wrote in a recent column. "Fleeting sensations, momentary outrages, ersatz insights and provocative distortions."

"I really don't think it's so hard to avoid commenting on a moving story when the facts are not clear," said Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University.

Maggie Haberman, New York Times White House correspondent, wrote about how she was stepping back from Twitter after nearly nine years and 187,000 tweets.

"The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight," she wrote. "It is a place where people who are unquestionably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious. Twitter is now an anger video game for many users."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Contact the writer at williamhennelly@chinadailyusa.com

Global Edition
Copyright 1995 - . All rights reserved. The content (including but not limited to text, photo, multimedia information, etc) published in this site belongs to China Daily Information Co (CDIC). Without written authorization from CDIC, such content shall not be republished or used in any form. Note: Browsers with 1024*768 or higher resolution are suggested for this site.
License for publishing multimedia online 0108263

Registration Number: 130349