By CC Hidalgo
When the protest broke, Twitter users were the first to report it. When Tehran clamped down on journalists, they stepped up to the plate. But this exposed Twitter’s (and YouTube’s and Facebook’s) flaw: it is a great medium to bring out information — but the information can be difficult, if not impossible, to verify.
Twitter is a great tool to push an advocacy, which is to say it can be manipulated. This was made clear when anti-government demonstrators urged users outside of Iran to change their location in their Twitter profile to Tehran, to make it appear that all those tweets denouncing the government came from within the country.
“That’s great for activists, but it’s terrible for journalists,” Sree Sreenivasan, a journalism professor at Columbia Journalism School in New York, told the Associated Press. “You’ve been following these people who you thought were in Iran and they’re not.”
Indeed, the YouTube video of Neda — the girl supposedly shot dead in Tehran during a demonstration — remains subject to verification despite having been widely circulated on the Internet, precisely because social-media networks such as YouTube can be manipulated. (In a high-stakes game involving the leadership of a country, we should expect the manipulation to worsen.) So it has been the task of the news media to verify the video. As I was writing this, the AP, known for its vast army of reporters and a deep pocket of resources, has failed to verify it.
Regardless of its flaws, the news media remains the only institution capable of performing the very important task of verifying the flood of information let loose by social media, and to put all of it in context.
The discipline of verification hardwired into the DNA of most journalists — something that members of a loose social network like Twitter probably can never replicate — is needed now more than ever. As Twitter and the others increasingly empower citizens to gather news and information at a dizzying speed, the role of the news media will ultimately be as editors and fact-checkers. Some may argue that this role does not veer from the news media’s traditional and mainstream structure and perspective — the very thing that the new media, rightly or wrongly, seeks to change — but editors and fact-checkers in these institutions can at least be held accountable for their judgments. I don’t think we can say the same thing of Twitter users.
This delineation of roles, by the way, is — or should be — at the heart of citizen journalism. (I can imagine a news venture that does nothing but monitor Twitter and then verify and publish those tweets or an amalgamation of those tweets.)
The days of the reporter as we know it may be numbered. But in this twittering world, editors and fact-checkers — long neglected and forgotten in the traditional newsrooms, thanks but no thanks to Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — will be the new stars, the linchpin in fact, of Journalism 2.0. (Bulatlat.com)