Although Twitter has a smaller reach than Facebook, journalists use on it more and it therefore it has a greater influence on the news. Journalists use twitter to find stories, meet sources, try out ideas, promote their own work and criticise that of others. It’s “where they develop a sense of what’s important and merits coverage, and what doesn’t”.
Specifically, Twitter often acts as the small bowel of digital news. It’s where political messaging and disinformation get digested, packaged and widely picked up for mass distribution to cable, Facebook and the rest of the world.
Bots can turn fake news into trending news and that influences the algorithms that decide what will be in newsfeeds. They can also influence mainstream news as many journalists trust trending news to be true. Others feel obliged to cover it, even if they don’t personally believe it. Otherwise they might be accused of bias.
This means that anyone who can get a story trending on Twitter, through foul means or fair, can be sure that it will be covered elsewhere, including the mainstream media, which will lend it legitimacy. In this way Twitter played a major role in many of the misinformation campaigns during the US election of 2016.
All someone has to do is come up with a story then use thousands of bots to tweet and retweet messages referring to and supporting the story. Twitter is flooded with them, so it seems that everyone is talking about the story, and the hope is that the story will make it to Twitter’s Trending Topic’s list.
Reference: Farhad Manjoo. ‘How Twitter Is Being Gamed to Feed Misinformation.’ The New York Times, 31 May 2017.
Twitter is making the news dumber. The service is insidery and clubby. It exacerbates groupthink. It prizes pundit-ready quips over substantive debate, and it tends to elevate the silly over the serious.
© 2017 Sharon Beder