Twitter trends are a brilliant way of seeing what’s going on in the world. Too often, however, these trends point only towards the activities of Beliebers and the Kardashians, and include a hashtag that goes something along the lines of #3reasonswhyilovefarting. Lovely.
Occasionally trends on our favourite websites point to something more significant than awkward moments on the X-Factor. In fact, more recently, social media has been the only way of communication in countries such as Egypt, where the Government famously tried (and failed) to block the sites to prevent a revolution. But can we ever utilise these relatively new forms of communication to become our primary source of news?
In many ways, yes. Some people are more plugged into social networks than they are into any other form of media. How did you find out about Oscar Pistorius? Or Kimye’s baby? Or Steve Jobs’ death? Probably via some kind of TwitBook site.
Earlier this year there was a helicopter crash in central London. Twitter was a great way to quickly catch updates and to check out photographs of the crash scene. One particular photo was retweeted 2,500 times, but all the comments underneath were exclusively from news channels- CNN, Fox News, BBC, Channel 4, (to name a few), all asking to use the picture at no cost. It seems that more and more we are relying on social networks to source, compile and deliver our news for us.
But there is a reason why Egypt only used twitter’s mobile site as a last resort to communicate with the outside world once the internet had been disconnected. Twitter is so inherently social that it is no more than an online equivalent of neighbourhood gossip.
Sally Bercow recently came under fire as her tweet regarding Lord McAlpine was deemed to be highly inappropriate, and falsely accusing him of something he had never done. If we relied solely on independent, objective news providers, e.g. the BBC (although some sceptics do query how ‘neutral’ they really are), this story would never have been published until all the details were verified.
As someone who works with young people, I know how much social media can damage people. Teenagers tread a fine line between digital popularity and digital humiliation. The slightest mistake, one out of context photo or a poorly timed status update can turn the online crowds against you. Social media is a dangerous thing when you’re at the wrong end of it, and every week I have to mop up the mess that it causes amoung teenagers who think their whole life has just fallen apart.
Social media is a great way to deliver sensationalist, up-to-the-minute news bulletins, but for now I think we would welcome the continued prescence of the independent news crews- I for one, give a big ‘thumbs up’ for good quality, investigative journalism that isn’t based on hype.