Just to expand on my thoughts . . . some of which Levine included in his own reporting.
First, I haven’t been able to determine if panic is appropriate or not. So there’s that.
Second, yes, I’m sure Twitter is contributing to hysteria and a lot of falsehoods floating around.
But so what?
There will always be reckless users of any communication technology. After all, theNew York Times and theWashington Post created a panic about Weapons of Mass Destruction that is still killing American soldiers.
Conspiracy theories about 9/11 flourished quite well before Twitter was a gleam in any texter’s eye.
Orson Welles causeda panic with his infamousWar of the Worlds radio broadcast.
Millions of Americans still believe Al Gore claimed to have invented
the Internet, among other patently false statements put in his mouth by
the mainstream media.
And there wasthat whole tulip thing in Holland. You get the idea.
I don’t dispute that today’s technologies can spread misinformation
faster, wider and more amplified than ever. But what are you going to
do about it? You can’t outlaw Twitter and the like; instead you have to
It is more incumbent than ever for journalists to do so; their value
has actually gone up even if that isn’t yet reflected in business
structures either crumbling or in their infancy.
Technology is generally neutral. That’s not to say the nature of
technology doesn’t shape messages – that was Marshall McLuhan’s central
insight. But what’s important is how responsible messengers combat the
So, for example, the World Health Organization and Centers for
Disease Control and so on have to be on networks like Twitter during
these kinds of times. They should be Twittering the hell out of
everyone with the facts as they see them.
This is, again, why there is a real opportunity for journalists to
stake an online claim – people generally want and need news sources
they can trust.
In a world of so many voices, brand authority is crucial.
Expanding on this, if you cede that brand authority to someone else, like, say, a news site, you can’t then come around and bitch and complain that nobody listens to you anymore. We’re busy people, in America. We’re working like six jobs each and driving kids to soccer. We don’t have time to listen to anybody who’s not demanding to be listened to. It’s why I get on newspapers for their marketing and distribution operations. If you aren’t shoving yourself in my face in about five different ways, chances are I’m not seeing you.