Thursday, November 24, 2011

Is Twitter the tabloid of tomorrow?

In the middle of the evidence-giving at the Leveson enquiry yesterday I saw a tweet posted by a quite prominent media figure. He's not a journalist, which may explain why he was re-tweeting an outrageous allegation about the people giving evidence, which was in turn allegedly tweeted by another prominent person. 

Maybe the mood of righteous indignation had got to him. It took him only a few minutes to post another tweet pointing out that he did not actually know that the first tweet came from the person he had said it had. Maybe he then hurriedly deleted the original tweet. I hope he did.

The potential legal repercussions of those 140 characters took my breath away. Repeating a libel is, as every hack knows, just as bad as originating it. Repeating a libel and then attributing it to someone who didn't say it is off the scale.

The phone-ins this morning are all about making the press behave. I think the drift of the business will probably take care of that on its own. If it's no longer about moving paper from a shelf there will be less call for the lurid headlines which are the endgame of the controversial stories. 

Maybe Twitter is the tabloid of tomorrow, the place where people will gather to share stories which confirm all their prejudices. But just as the press is going to matter less, social media is going to matter more and everybody is going to have to make sure their fingers aren't quite so tappety-happy.


  1. If the tweets I saw about the McCanns are anything to go by, Twitter has the potential to be a very dangerous place indeed, and more damaging than the tabloids could even hope to be.

  2. It's too easy to get your thoughts out into the public these days, without editing or care. I try to pause before hitting 'send' or 'tweet' or 'comment', just in case there is anything I'm sending which could be taken the wrong way, or is offensive or is not what I actually intended to say.

    At least some of the tools like word verification on blog comments make you think for a moment before committing to the send.

  3. A horrible incident a few months ago made me alive to the potential dangers of the twitterverse.

    I was unfortunate enough to be a few feet away when a lady, who had tried to dash across a busy road when she shouldn't have, was hit by a motorcycle. Tragically, she died from her injuries, although I didn't find that out until later. Wanting to see if I could find any information on whether she was okay or not when I got to work, I went onto Twitter, where I was stunned to see that another purported 'witness' had tweeted that she had been knocked off a Boris Bike, along with a condemnation of them. This had been picked up and retweeted countless times, leading to other peoples ire at how dangerous the bikes were. I can only think that someone with their own agenda had started the false rumour, as I couldn't see how it could've started in error.

    Any form of information disseminated en-masse that has no buffer, or requirement, of fact-checking is potentially very dangerous. And more so on social network sites where people are less likely to question the sources ideologies. There are always those who will use whatever means to suit their own prejudices, be it in print or online.