Twitter, being a crowd-sourced media outlet, usually beats traditional media to the latest and greatest news stories. The moment a celebrity is arrested or a political scandal breaks, someone tweets their 140-character opinion or eyewitness account...or even their mother’s best friend’s son’s version of the story. Suddenly, the rest of the world is connected to a source, regardless of whether it is reliable or not.
Despite its unreliability, Twitter has become more than a place to simply express your opinions in a small space. It is a powerful tool used to inform, debate, protest, protect, and expose. It has become a place to skirmish during celebrity feuds and has become a new stage in the theater of war for countries like Syria. Formerly inaccessible people, like government officials or CEOs of fortune 500 companies, now have Twitter accounts and can interact with the public they once were fenced off from. Many of us who are interested in current events follow these people and have the pleasure (or displeasure!) of learning from or about them one phrase at a time.
Twitter, simply by the frequency with which we use it, has been lent credibility without actually having much. Here are five things you can do to make Twitter a more reliable news source:
1. Participate! When you have a story, participate in the discourse. The more people that tweet, the wider the range of ideas on Twitter. It keeps Twitter from becoming dominated by a single source.
2. Re-tweet tweets from those who have a history of being a reliable news source. It’s not surprising that some sources are more reliable than others. You are the front lines of making sure that true and verified stories get promoted. Not sure if it’s true? Don’t re-tweet it until it’s been verified.
3. Double check what you’re reading/tweeting. Promote skepticism. 140 characters doesn’t leave a lot of room for details and even good sources can have unreliable tweets. Does it just show up on one source? How about two? Is it three sources known for their great reporting? Decide at what point you’re willing to accept a story as truth. Don’t believe every single thing you read. Who’s the primary source? What’s the motivation behind the tweet? When you’re not sure about a story let other people know that you need more information. Ask for it! It’s your right to know!
4. Use Twitter as a springboard for more reliable news sources, not the news itself. Can a social media network really be the news? Or is it better as a place to aggregate the news, interact with it, share, and receive information? Sometimes it’s worth clicking through that tiny URL to the link to the news story. The headline can only say so much. If something is happening on Twitter let the story play out and then make a call on it.
5. Create the right network. The beauty and downfall of almost all social media is that it reflects who we are or want to be back to ourselves. We follow those things or people that are interesting to us, and nothing more. It is not enough to be a great debater or to be able to yell loudly about what we believe. We must also listen with the intent to understand many things. Twitter, Facebook, and other social-news feeds can often help us build a wall made of only what we find interesting. This wall can grow so tight and so rigid that we forget other points of view exist. Part of creating the right network is choosing to listen, even if you don’t agree, to other points of view. At the very least you’ll be better informed when you make your own case!