Tweeting to freedom?

Posted on October 30, 2009

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Twitter as a journalistic resource has been much-discussed. The social-networking site is a valuable research to reporters of all persuasions, be they lazy or conscientious. The lazy reporter picks up on something on Twitter and reports it as fact. His conscientious colleague finds the same nugget of information, then researches, checks, and double checks before reporting it. As Sean McGuire commented at a recent debate on the ethics of journalism, Twitter is a tip-off service for journalists, nothing more.  Just because it is on the internet does not mean it is true.

Social-networking is a great thing. People all over the world can share information and stories. Barriers of geography, race or class are swept away on the internet, all that matters is what you have to say and how you say it. The flow of information, crucial to any democracy, is relentless and unstoppable. The free press, another vital part of any democratic society, stands to gain from this new source of information. Avenues previously unheard of have been opened for journalists, and new sources of information and opinions unearthed. When it comes to fulfilling its task of holding those in power to account, the press has never had a greater ally than the internet.

Yet allies can sometimes turn against you. The relative lack of regulation online could be viewed as the closest thing we have to pure freedom. It borders on anarchy. Simply because information flows does not mean this information is right. Sites like Twitter are perfect for the saboteur and the imbecile. And while the press and democracy stand to gain from the freedom of imformation inherent online, both should be wary of the negative impact of the whole charade. For while the internet continues to be unregulated, the potential remains for it to do substantial damage to the reputation of the journalistic profession, and, with free, honest journalists a crucial part of the furniture in any democratic society, to democracy itself.

Journalists stand to gain a lot from the internet and sites like Twitter. But the damage that lazy journalism and the use of these sites could inflict is monumental. Never before has the checking of facts and the sieving of information been more important. The crudest possible way I can think of to express this is by suggesting a simple Twitter search for a well-known person, such as Chris Moyles or Jeremy Clarkson. With many fakes and liars out there, and with the internet providing them with a platform from which to work, good journalism has never been more important. We can make the most of these huge developments in the way we work, but we must be careful. And we must also hope that somehow a feasible solution can be found to regulate online content without trampling on the new freedoms provided by the technological revolution. That is the greatest challenge.

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Posted in: Media, Politics