It's Not Twitter's Power To Misinform That We Should Be Worried About…

from the oh-come-on... dept

A few folks have sent in this essay by Evgeny Morozov at ForeignPolicy.com complaining about “Twitter’s power to misinform” concerning swine flu. It sure sounds good as a thesis, but it makes little sense. Twitter’s power to misinform is no different than any method of communication. The issue of swine flu is hardly limited to Twitter. It looks like it was all over the cable news channels, newspapers and news websites over the weekend. The fact that Morozov finds a few people were clueless on Twitter means nothing. Your next door neighbor could be clueless, and if he shouted over the backfence to Morozov something wrong about swine flu, would Morozov write an article about how picket fences have a power to misinform?

Part of the problem seems to be that Morozov (and many Twitter critics) seem to want to assign to it a purpose that it does not have and no one uses it for. If people are misinforming others via Twitter, that’s an issue about who you follow, not about Twitter as a whole. I’ll admit that I saw multiple mentions of swine flu over the weekend among the folks I follow on Twitter — but I believe every single one of them was making a joke of some sort. Should I then write an essay about “Twitter’s power to create laughter out of a serious situation”?

There are some clueless people out there — no doubt. And I’m sure those clueless people may know other clueless people, but there’s no indication that a sudden influx of dumb Twitter statements from clueless people resulted in further cluelessness. At no point does Morozov bother to see if any one of the Twitter users he mentioned have a significant number of followers, or if any of those followers actually believed/responded to the clueless statements. Nor does he investigate if (perhaps) some of the more knowledgeable followers of those users actually corrected the clueless. That’s because, just as a clueless person may repeat bad information, others can use Twitter to properly educate. Twitter, itself, is just a tool. Just like a website like ForeignPolicy.com. And it’s just as easy for someone like Morozov to misinform — such as by claiming Twitter misinforms — via ForeignPolicy.com than it is for individuals on Twitter to misinform. In the case of Morozov and ForeignPolicy.com, however, I’d argue the situation is worse, since there are probably a lot more readers, and they might actually believe that someone writing for a site like ForeignPolicy.com knows what they’re talking about.

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Comments on “It's Not Twitter's Power To Misinform That We Should Be Worried About…”

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16 Comments
Xander (profile) says:

Re: Others on the Twitter bashing wagon!!!!

I was wondering why this wasn’t posted on the record. 😛 I think xkcd hits the issue on the spot. It’s not “misinformed” people, but regular people that will provide stupid tweets.

Still, at the end of it all, the same thing happened during 9/11 when the public at large did not enough information at to the situation. There where rumors and reports of other actions that day (invasion, bombings, gas attacks) from misinformed people, but the severity of the issue was not lost. In all, when a topic arriese, there will always be confusion and extra chatter until people calm down and start passing along relevent information.

Carl Ingalls (user link) says:

Twitter Bashing

Journalists need stories, and stories need an angle. It’s cheap and easy to bash Twitter, and it is cheap and easy to gather evidence to justify such bashing. When the readers get tired of the same old story, some journalist will find a very different thing to say about Twitter, possibly a very positive angle. Again, it will be cheap and easy to gather evidence to justify that new position.

PRMan (profile) says:

I don't know...

Because on Twitter, we might actually hear a voice that tells us that this is the 5th such overreaction in as many years.

Not so on the traditional media, which will continue to cry wolf for rating points until the younger generations learn to ignore them completely.

I’ll be the first to come on here and say that I am wrong when the pandemic breaks out, but remember that even SARS never topped 700 people dead, despite all the reporting that made it seem like a huge catastrophe.

An actual pandemic (such as the flu epidemic of 1918) killed just under 700,000 people in North America (over 1,000 times more).

So, wake me up AFTER something passes the 1,000 mark. Until then, the news organizations are just fear-mongering for ratings points as usual.

Anna (profile) says:

There have been several people correcting misinformation on Twitter – I spent a fair amount of time doing it myself. Twitter has also been a good sources of information on school closings and local incidents, sooner than any big media source – and many people provide a cite for where to get more info on the incident.

Yes, there are silly tweets about the aporkalypse and the like, but the opportunity is there to get correct information to the masses and to correct misinformation – there were many tweets reminding people, for example, that eating pork doesn’t lead to swine flu.

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