On Twitter, we are all consumers, digesters, and creators of content. For those accounts who have been here for a while, it is common to use Twitter as a source of information and news. The site is known for its real-time, instant updating that promises to keep Twitter streams informed about events.
But when a story such as the Tucson shootings occurs, Twitter can be its own worst enemy, an information overload of inaccuracies, heated opinions, catcalling, personal opinions, and personal attacks. Debate in the public stream could create incorrect information. It could lead to more hate that goes against the desire to be civil and respectful. Twitter, although quick, compact, and scannable, is not the definitive informative source of news or informed, rational opinion. However, profiles can work hard to change that perception, and while this frenzy of tweets and links and opinions continues, we might all benefit from pausing about this tragedy and learning how best you can use Twitter to control the barrage of #Giffords tweets unrelated to the actual story and investigation.
Here are some suggestions that we think could help refine how you get news of this tragedy with Twitter:
- Post facts about the story. Set up a good example that other profiles can model. One thing I like to do is listen to press conferences and try to tweet out what the principals are saying. This type of tweetcasting gives my stream information that is targeted, focused, attributable, and accurate. Add a hashtag to the tweet and there is a better chance that is enhances the public stream in a good way.
- Confirm the link sources and information before sharing news links. For example, NPR erroneously reported that Giffords had died yesterday afternoon and put it on the web. The Twitter stream was quick to RT it. It was an error and even though NPR is a responsible outlet, other outlets didn’t report it. When sharing news, it’s best to check to make sure other outlets confirm the information.
- Use Twitter lists to identify accurate coverage. For this story, we created a list of local Arizona media outlets, since they were the first to respond and have done an incredible and responsible job. Their tweets are immediate as well. We also like to use TweetChat when we want to see a flowing stream since it allows you to tweet without adding the hashtag every time.
- If you are going to comment, be respectful. Yes, who didn’t know about the Sarah Palin target hair map yesterday? It was all over Twitter, and people were passionate. Now, we respect freedom of speech, but personal attacks on Twitter between people is just wrong and also distracts people from the core issues of the story. This is not about Sarah Palin, unless the investigation proves that there was a direct correlation between the map and the suspect’s motive to commit this heinous act. If we are going to have a discussion about angry rhetoric and its relationship to political violence, then let’s have it, but at least let’s not attack people on Twitter. It adds to the frenzy and hype and quite frankly it does nothing to the debate, in our opinion. Yesterday when we started tweeting about the press conference, a few profiles called us an “idiot” and said we were adding to the “hate,” that we were part of the Twitter conspiracy to discredit Palin. We don’t think so. We are using social media to inform both ourselves and others in our stream. Relax, Twitter, take a breath and get the whole story. The whole issue of political civility needs to be practiced everywhere, even on social media.
We will be following up with more posts about how social media is playing a role in this tragedy. In the meantime, we pray for the victims who died and the people who are still recovering. Stay civil, everyone.