Update: CNN says “It was the day social media appeared to come of age and signaled itself as a news-gathering force to be reckoned with.”
Twitter is emerging as a major force in breaking news. But some people disagree.
Today we saw yet another illustration, when people in Mumbai got the word of terrorist attacks out to the world well before mainstream media even knew something was happening. Mathew Ingram points out previous examples of Twitter users breaking important world news.
If I didn’t hear about something important happening by watching my Twitter stream, it’s the first place I go to get an idea of what’s going on. Years ago I would have turned to the cable news channels, now it’s Twitter.
It’s not just the speed of early reports either. Twitter also serves up a constant stream of updates as situations progress.
The facts seem to be irrefutable. But some people disagree, as they wrote in comments to my Mumbai post. You should also read TomsTechBlog, who argues that it’s irresponsible to think of Twitter as a news source. The reason? The facts are often wrong.
This is the same argument that mainstream journalists used against blogs when they rose to fill a void in the news over the last few years. Yet even the NY Times admitted years ago that blogs were an important news source when disaster struck: “For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.”
But blogs are nothing compared to Twitter, which lets anyone with a cell phone instantly update the world with what they see and hear, via the simple and ubiquitous text message.
Sure, lots of Twitter messages are flat out wrong and can spread disinformation. But as Ingram notes in his blog post above, other people tend to immediately correct those errors. Bad information is quickly drowned out by good information.
You can jump up and down and shout all you want that Twitter isn’t a real news source. But all you are doing is viewing the world through a reality lens that’s way outdated. People want information fast and raw from people who are on the scene. If it gets a little messy along the way, that’s ok. We’ll soon see tools that help us distill the really good stuff out of the stream anyway.
What matters isn’t any individual Twitter message and whether it’s right or wrong. It’s the organism as a whole, the aggregate, that lets people stream what they’re witnessing in real time to the world. That aggregate stream gives us more information, faster, than anything before. It’s news, and it’s incredibly valuable.