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.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Phil, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 3:02am

    No mention, of course, of the excellent real-time reporting by @mpoppel (of @BreakingNews) and @Veratect. Or @CDCemergency

    Twitter has once again excelled.

    Phil

     

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  2.  
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    Blatant Coward, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 3:56am

    Others on the Twitter bashing wagon!!!!

    These guys really hate the twits!

    http://xkcd.com/574/

     

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  3.  
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    Carl Ingalls, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 4:44am

    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.

     

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  4.  
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    MadJo (profile), Apr 27th, 2009 @ 4:51am

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

    nope, not the twits (twit.tv) but the tweets and the twitterers.

     

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  5.  
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    Comboman, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 5:41am

    Misinformation

    Misinforming the populous is the job of government and big media. How dare Twitter infringe on their turf.

     

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  6.  
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    John Duncan Yoyo, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 5:45am

    Shooting the Messenger

    Since when have we not had to worry about reporters misinforming us? We should be eliminating newspapers, television, the internet and the garden fence as well.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 6:23am

    Ban radio

    I heard that someone once made a radio show about Martians attacking, and people panicked. Radio should be banned, or at least put under the control of a government agency who can ensure that everything that goes out is truthful and accurate. I've heard of countries that do that.

     

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  8.  
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    Xander, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 6:46am

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

    I was wondering why this wasn't posted on the record. :P 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.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Twitter is just a tool that lets ignorant people display their ignorance more quickly and to more people all at once.

     

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  10.  
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    The infamous Joe, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 9:12am

    Re:

    [The internet] is just a tool that lets ignorant people display their ignorance more quickly and to more people all at once.

    FTFM.

     

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  11.  
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    PRMan, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    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.

     

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  12.  
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    TheStuipdOne, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 12:18pm

    We've got a problem fellas

    RT @hanneloreec Without duct tape I can't seal the door to keep out swine flu but I can't get duct tape without going outside! Help!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
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    Anonofus, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 12:39pm

    Love this site, awesome articles! Keep up the good work guys!

     

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  14.  
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    KNICO, Apr 27th, 2009 @ 12:52pm

    I agree Phil, @Veratect has been a wonderful addition to this situation. Why hasn't the WHO and CDC had real-time updates on their websites??

     

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  15.  
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    Dan, Apr 28th, 2009 @ 1:27am

    It's not a message from God almighty!

    These are not missives carved in stone tablets from the mount, get a little perspective. Most tweets are spurious brain farts, just in case you hasn't figured that out. On rare occasion you may gleen some useful information, if so you are lucky, if not it's no loss. Get over yourself, we did.

     

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  16.  
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    Anna, May 1st, 2009 @ 11:20pm

    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.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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