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Why I'm Losing Faith in the Power of Twitter

Posted: 23/08/2011 11:31

Camden's Electric Ballroom smashed up. Ella Fitzgerald dead. Zac Efron pleasuring himself in his own bed. These are just some of the frankly bizarre rumours that have been RTing their way around the Fail Whale world and you know what, for a long time I didn't mind.

In fact I found it a little bit of a thrill. For everyone Twitter is a bit of a thrill. The ability to discuss a great amount of what is essential meaningless banter to whole hoard of random strangers who you've never met, the fact that all your non-Twitter friends think that you are lame for chatting about it the whole time but you know better, the fact that we are able to go stand up for the individual and distance ourselves from the evils of large corporations and media organisations by potentially writing streams and streams of libel...


When there were spits and spats of news and views that seemed to be as trustworthy as being it told by four year olds (who liked to exaggerate about their summer holidays) it never seemed to have gotten in the way of things.

But then the rumours during the riots happened, and then that Tripoli thing happened. In the past two weeks we've had everything from Gaddafi being dead or hopscotching it over to Tunisia, to tanks being lined up near Bank Underground Station in London to respond to the whole riot brew ha ha. Twitter, at least for the time being, has now gone from a place of occasional speculation that would make any political correspondent blush, to streams and streams of unsubstantiated rubbish that makes the BBC's Have Your Say website look like pages from The Economist.

Why? Is it the time of year? Is it because of the news agenda at the moment? Or has there been a fundamental shift in how people use Twitter which is pissing everybody off?

I've been giving it a think for a while and I think that, sadly, it is the latter point. Here's my take:

1) There's a lot more people on Twitter these days who don't actually know how journalism works - About nine months ago there was a trending topic saying that a bomb had gone off on a train at Kings Cross Station in London. Complete bollocks may I add, but it was relatively shielded from starting a news virus because the only people who tweeted it were 13 years old and had the words BIEBS in their profile name. You know, the people who tend to write tweets to people like @tommcfly with messages such as "OH MY GOD I JUST WANT TO TOUCH YOU SO BAD YOUR LATEST HAIRCUT MAKES ME BLEED". Nowadays with Twitter's popularity surging, and with every brand out there trying to whore itself out there (especially on Fridays when they #ff their global subsidiaries), there's just a feeling that the people who were all over Twitter in the past have just been squeezed out by millions of people who now go batshit crazy over everything but factual reporting.

This would be the point that you assume that in an article like this I would end up doing a ridiculous rant that Twitter should be filtered "for a certain section of society", but I won't. That's because we shouldn't, and there's nothing that we can do about it either. However I do have to say that as the media circle of factual news is slowly shrinking yet the amount of people on Twitter grows ever larger, it does occasionally feel on there that I am indeed a pervert on Bebo.

2) We think we've got eyes and ears everywhere, when we haven't - Twitter is a global phenomenon, but it isn't a universal one. Remember the section of society who, prepare to shudder, automatically assume that Twitter's only purpose "is for people who go and write about what they are currently eating"? They exist in their MILLIONS. We don't think that however, so when news breaks we always assume that someone is there to provide something factual from the off. Actually some of the time the nearest person who could provide some of the best insight to the story is having a chicken kebab three towns over and haven't got a faintest clue what you're on about.

That's what happened with the Electric Ballroom in Camden, a nightclub in London's city centre that was perceived as being smashed up because during the main 'Riot Night' it was near where a lot of that looting was taking place. The problem? No-one actually reporting it was near it. There were no photos for at least ten hours of it being lovely and spared. People made assumptions, or just saw some police in front of it actively scratching their privates and thought that it chaos had already ensued.. and lo and behold IT WAS NEWS.

And that's where Gaddafi and the whole Libya complex comes in. I doubt that there is a much social media in Libya. I mean I can't even get an adequate 3G connection at my parents house in Dorset for god's sake. But as Twitter has to be this ever-loving stream of news, and because you know news travels faster on Twitter than on other forms of media, there just can't afford to be a vacuum relating to a big story, even when there isn't anything new coming through. So questions about no news become assumptions, assumptions get reinforced with incoherence, incoherence is perceived as a trustworthy and a trustworthy source becomes accurate news. Huzzah!

3) Everyone thinks they know what can be said and can't be said on Twitter, but they don't - I'm going to write something that will be making me cringe writing it down. 140 characters is a very short length to write a message, particularly if you are the one who likes to spread the news around *winces*. You have to put in the who, the what, when, where and why - but at the same time make it sound convincing and fresh to those who read it *starts to vomit*.

But you know what, you wouldn't believe how many people just ignore that basic principle. Hundreds and hundreds of tweets on similar topics filter on through saying the same thing but subtly different. Why? Because people feel the need to go and write their own tweet instead of simply retweeting somebody elses. And why's that? Well because there is a follower count next to everyone's names and for a lot of people they can't have anyone else taking the credit for what they have said because they are pure and simple social whores.

We're now in a world where people have to slash quotes in either side of their tweet and include a reference to who said it, or worse of all try to summarise what they said themselves, to simply generate their own RT in the hope of becoming a trending topic or be at least get it widely recognised. Then as so many people have written the same thing but subtly different some idiot then feels the needs to checkmate them all and scream "CONFIRMED" when it hasn't been CONFIRMED at all. There's this "I'VE GOT THE LATEZT RT ME" thing going on. I want to scream.

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All in all I love Twitter. I think shutting it down during times of violence in the city would be a silly idea. I think that in the last year it has done by far more good than harm. The problem is that more and more people are exploiting the fundamental gap between news coming from someone whose got goss to tell but it hasn't been verified yet and news coming in from an official news organisation, purely so they can just go on a little ego trip and a have a bit of a buzz for themselves.

It all just feels to me like the last hour before a nightclub closes when everyone wants to get laid and everything feels like glorified meat market. I just want out.

 

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