Thursday, 12 May 2011

The Unbearable Ubiquity of Twitter

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBaseI have now seen a number of friends taking nervously to Twitter, stumbling around for a while blindly and then giving up on it only to return a while later and find things generally easier and more productive than they ever would have thought. From being critics of the 'I don't want to know what you had for breakfast' school, they have become rabid adherents.

The increasing ubiquity of Twitter fascinates me. Its role in spreading news, information and opinion with blinding speed becomes ever greater - from small events of interest to only a few (Google's Android Market will expand to 99 countries, excluding the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt - the region's three largest markets. Thanks, Twitter) through to its role in the 'Arab Spring' alongside cousin/rival/deadly enemy Facebook.

All this stuff is leaving 'traditional media' rather racing to catch up. The Arab Media Forum this year, Gulf News tells us, is to discuss the way in which events in the region have impacted regional media - rather tellingly, there's no discussion of media's role in those events.

I was disconcerted while in the UK to hear Sky News telling me that "the British Foreign Secretary has tweeted he is to meet Hillary Clinton". That one really gave me pause for thought - a national news channel reporting on a tweet? And it's now commonplace for journalists to 'stand up' stories on tweets - not just the Hollywood gossip tabloid stuff, but serious news stories. Mind you, I was equally disconcerted (not to say amused) to learn that Pippa Middleton's bum had its own Facebook page before the wedding was over!

One area where I do have increasing issues is in media reporting the weight or movement of public opinion by citing Twitter. One story in Gulf News today on the possible accession of Jordan and Morocco to the Gulf Co-Operation Council (the Middle East equivalent of the EEC) tells that 'a number of Twitter users specifically targeted Morocco for criticism...' It's by no means the only example of media citing Twitter as 'public opinion'. Fanboy that I am, it's not.

While undoubtedly true, 'a number of tweets' is hardly empirical evidence of a shift or trend in public opinion. But then we're all beginning to accept it: if it's not on Twitter, it didn't happen, aren't we?

Talking of traditional media, today's Gulf News piece on the newspaper that removed Hillary Clinton and Audrey Tomasoni from the now-famous 'White House Situation Room' OBL picture because they may be considered 'sexually suggestive' is rather coy about quite WHICH newspaper did this. It was this newspaper, a Brooklyn based orthodox Chasidic Jewish newspaper. Presumably GN felt it couldn't for some mad reason use the word 'Jewish'. I do feel somewhat misled - I'd originally thought it was perhaps a Saudi paper... but I had to find out the crucial (remember 'when what when where why how'?) details myself online.

Context and analysis? Nah, I'd rather trust Twitter...

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