Some 52 percent of consumers get at least some of their news from either Facebook or Twitter, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Although some Luddites might lament this fact, many news organizations find the platform useful for reporting breaking news on the minute-to-minute schedule that most consumers live by.
Twitter reached an important milestone when it recently filed its IPO. Its journalistic potential, arguably, is what raised the social media platform to this status. So let’s take a look back at how Twitter has evolved to become the news tool it is today.
Reinventing the Wheel
Twitter was technically born in 2006, but it didn’t really come into its own until March 2007. In a brilliant marketing move, the company erected large screens in conference hallways at the South By Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas. These screens broadcasted live tweets about events at the festival, causing a large number of professional users to jump on board at the start.
In 2008, an American graduate student attending an anti-government protest in Egypt announced his arrest via Twitter. After gaining a large following and national media coverage, the student was released the following day.
Politics in 140 Characters or Less
Probably the most salient example of Twitter as a political platform was back in January of 2011, when the social media site was a key communication tool for the Arab Spring uprisings. Many have argued that these uprisings wouldn’t have been possible without social media.
Politicians have especially embraced Twitter’s potential for reaching out to the public, but it sometimes doesn’t work in their favor. We all remember the Anthony Weiner scandal of 2011, where the former U.S. representative accidentally tweeted lewd photos to his 80,000 Twitter followers. The outrage caused by this event caused Weiner to step down from his position.
In the Now
Twitter boasts more than 500 million users, ranging from Barack Obama to Justin Bieber. Although reputable news organizations like the New York Times and The Washington Post both have active accounts on the site, there are still questions to be answered about exactly how suited Twitter is for journalism.
Local and cable news programs, like those available from providers like CenturyLink, have taken to using Twitter as a source for stories and public sentiment. While it can be seen as shoddy journalism, news outlets use it not only as a source, but also as a way to stay relevant with viewers.
Just this past April, the Associated Press Twitter account was hacked by the Syrian Electronic Army. The hackers’ tweet alleging that the White House had been bombed caused the Dow Jones Industrial Average to plunge before the AP even had a chance to address the hack.
So what about the future of Twitter? With the direction that media coverage is heading in now, it’s likely that Twitter could become a primary platform for news in the future. However, the same Pew Research Center study cited above finds that many social media users consume news from these sites only as a supplement to a more traditional consumption of news.
Michael Wolff of the Guardian is optimistic about Twitter’s ride in the news world, but not quite as hopeful for traditional news outlets. In a recent article, he said, “Given the choice between being the executive editor of the New York Times or being the first Twitter news chief, you’d be well advised to think twice.”
This is a guest post by Anna Graves. Anna is a freelance writer who lives on a farm in upstate New York.