It’s a Tool, Tools


I’m still thinking about the query put to me by Jay Levine forhis report earlier this week on whether Twitter was contributing to swine flu hysteria.

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
engage it.

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
reckless ones.

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.


6 thoughts on “It’s a Tool, Tools

  1. Questions that will not get me very far in this business:
    Has Twitter helped distribute sensible, rich information about swine flu from experts that’s enriched the understanding of hundreds of thousands of people?
    Is it better to do that instead of asking boring metaquestions?
    Can I quote Ecclesiastes or the Byrds here?

  2. There ought to be a ‘feature’ on Twitter and its sibling technologies that e.g. the CDC could use to send out messages (like the ‘blast fax’ program public health uses to alert doctors and other practitioners when an outbreak occurs) for the benefit of the general public. If OnStar can be used to determine whether you were at fault in the wreck by your insurance company, why not create a way to use Twitter CONSTRUCTIVELY?

  3. Oh god, someone who actuallygets Marshall McLuhan, another Canadian English major who made good…<3<3<3 I love you, Steve Rhodes!!

  4. sheeple.
    thinking of those LED lit sheep beig herded this way and that. long live the wandering sheeple.

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