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Truth and consequences: a dilemma for Twitter

Gerry Shih (via SMH/Reuters) | April 25, 2013
Does Twitter have a credibility problem?

News wire or platform?

For Twitter, the hacking has raised questions about its credibility just as it is beginning to assume a central role in a fast-changing media landscape, with the volume of tweets rising to more than 400 million a day. Earlier this month, the US Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that companies may report material information such as quarterly results on Twitter, as long as investors are alerted in advance. Days later, Bloomberg said it would funnel Twitter directly into its terminals used by thousands of traders on Wall Street.

At the same time, the world's leading news organisations and Twitter, which has 200 million users around the world, have become increasingly intertwined in a symbiotic, if sometimes troublesome, relationship.

Dan Gillmor, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, said the hacks have especially hurt news outlets because their Twitter accounts are often the primary way that their news reaches consumers who may not subscribe to a newspaper or have access to a news wire.

Twitter has touted itself as a critical news wire of sorts, such as during the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when it helped emergency responders locate survivors, or when it became a vital lifeline for some New Yorkers as television sets fell dark during Hurricane Sandy last year.

But last week, in the wake of the Boston bombings, some of those who previously viewed Twitter as an indispensable news source began turning against the service upon discovering that the wisdom of crowds is, in fact, an adage not often applicable on the internet.

Steve Brunetto, a senior executive at Edgewave, a network security company, said Tuesday's hacking undermined Twitter at a sensitive time.

"On the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing, everyone's trying to figure out, 'Okay, where does Twitter fit into that news cycle? Where does Twitter fit into disseminating information?'" Brunetto said. "They've got an opportunity to legitimise themselves as a real player in that information life cycle but they get knocked down a peg every time somebody says, 'Oh, you can't believe what you read on Twitter.'"

Jeff Jarvis, a prominent internet pundit and a journalism professor at City University of New York, said the confusion caused by social media in recent weeks was not an indictment of social media but rather a reminder that the onus falls on professional reporters to verify information.

"No, the internet's not broken," Jarvis said.

The rise of social media means that "you now hear more bar-room debates and speculation than before", he added. "But that doesn't mean you should believe it more than you ever did."

Tom Schrader, managing director for US equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore, said there were a lot of clues in the false AP tweet that should have kept traders from reacting, in particular the wording of the message.


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