Getting it right, or getting it first? Twitter in the US Election

Photo: Ethan Bloch

Twitter reporting has become, to some journalists, a necessary part of the job. However, the recent US election proved that many of them haven’t learnt their lessons from 2008, as multiple news websites had to withdraw incorrect information.

 Twitter’s journalist community predicted and published results far quicker than the news websites or news channels, with reporters on the ground getting the word out as it happened.

The problem with everyone being able to use Twitter is that everyone can use Twitter. Claims, reports, polls and rumours were spread quickly from a number of sources, not necessarily credible ones.

CNN and Fox News had to wait until the information was confirmed officially. Some UK news channels were even slower; the BBC relayed the final counts sometimes ten minutes after Twitter and other mainstream media had announced it, or using the words ‘allegedly’ and ‘reported’ to cover their backs in case of a refute of information.

Further to the issues of timing, the use of Twitter for opinions, in addition to fact, became profound this year, with Donald Trump’s post-result exclamations receiving global attention.

Around 70 million people were watching around the globe, on TV and online, in a race to get the information first. In a twenty-first century globalised world, every news wire is desperate to be the source to break the story and the pressure is on to deliver up to date information.

The Associated Press were advised in an email not to “blindly” retweet information without first verifying it properly, in order to ensure that they would not promote possible mistakes.

It was estimated that around 20 million tweets were made in total about the US election, and many posted pictures of themselves voting on other social networking websites too, including using the popular ‘I voted’ stickers.

In 2008, just 6 million people used Twitter, it has now jumped to around 150 million users. Obama’s ‘Four more years’ tweet is now the most retweeted in the site’s history, highlighting the significance of how far Twitter has climbed in recent years.

In the fast-paced world of 24-hour news, it is far better to be right than to be first. But, with millions hanging on the every word of news organisations, it’s clear from the US election that journalists are feeling the pressure to get the results online as fast as possible. They must be careful when using Twitter to report information, even if, as David Dimbleby commented, “It’s the thing of the future.”

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Filed under America, Journalism, Media, Politics

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