Twitter for News? Okay, But Really?

“Who needs a newspaper anymore – breaking news happens on Twitter more or less live – and I don’t even watch television most days!”

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Haven’t you found yourself saying that to someone not too long ago? Or at least heard this, or read about it? Every once in a while, isn’t a trending hashtag the best messenger for something important, interesting or cool happening someplace? Indeed, “as heard on Twitter” is starting to replace “as seen on TV” for many.

Now I’m not a compulsive tweet-watcher, and don’t claim to keep an eye out for every little thing my exhaustive, varied and interesting timeline throws at me, but overall, I do manage to get the gist of what’s going on in the world. I watched the last IPL match a few years ago (when Lalit Modi still ruled and Dada was competing with SRK for on screen drama and exposure) but have never felt I didn’t know what was going on thanks to a very IPL-aware set of people who almost gave me a ball-by-ball, and more recently towel-by-ball update. I kept abreast of every scam, every rape, every joke on MMS or Modi, every interesting startup, acquisition, movement of a major stock in the BSE, and even of what was happening in the otherwise eclectic worlds of Formula One and professional cycling – all thanks to the 626 amazing people I follow on Twitter and another set amazing people on Facebook!

So I was a little shocked to see the reports on the recent Naxalite  attacks on Congress functionaries and their detail in Chhattisgarh in the morning paper a few days ago! I had been up till late and night trying to respond to pending emails, catch up with the forever-lagging-accounts, with old faithful Tweetdeck continuously updating me about the going ons in the world. Yet, this never caught my eye, and I missed it altogether amidst the fast moving timelines both on Twitter as well as on Facebook.

So, as you can see above, I surmised that Twitterverse was not particularly shocked or saddened by the massacre, perhaps because it was of folks from an otherwise recently-much-reviled-online political outfit?

All this made me wonder how fair, unbiased and balanced the view that the online “crowdsourced” journalism is capable of being? We recently read about instances where it was decidedly cruel and indulged in collective bullying – and in many an instance tends to take a particularly one sided, judgemental view of incidents and people. Opinion often passes for fact (as indeed this article may be seen to be doing!) and the popular take, especially held by influencers with whom more and more people want to be seen agreeing or associating with, drowns every other voice out!

Quite like a famous TV news anchor we all love to hate! Only, done collectively.

So can one rely on crowdsourced “media” for reliable information and updates? A lot many online are merely echoing what they see on TV, and adding opinion/outrage/humour to it. People are surely building personal brands, and it makes for good entertainment, but perhaps its too much to depend on it for diverse, reliable information or balanced viewpoints.

A few years ago, NextBigWhat did a survey on why Indians are embracing Twitter; the major reason cited was to use Twitter to keep oneself updated about the latest news. It was 2009 and things were much different (less twensational). Things have changed now and suddenly, the need to ‘break news’ has become important. Equally importantly, the need to be a part of trending hashtag and have a say has become top priority (heck! that improves your Klout score, which you never know might be a ticket to IITs :D).

Even as I write this, for the last 10 minutes, I’ve been seeing funny ones on my timeline about the “NAC”, with not one link or hint of information about exactly what the context is. Back to the main stream or television for that? Ah yes, that seems to work.

Its amazing how many pundits have written off journalism vis-a-vis the wisdom and knowledge of the crowds. I get a feeling it might have been too early.

Thoughts?

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