Twitter and news: a bad romance

Ashley Yarus

Keeping Perspective

This Tuesday, the Associated Press’ official Twitter account was hacked. Hackers tweeted that there had been two explosions at the White House and that President Obama was hurt in the attack. Within minutes this claim was retweeted more than three thousand times. The AP promptly discredited this tweet at a White House press conference and the AP’s account was taken offline. Yet, as a result of this tweet, the DOW fell 143 points in matter of seconds.

In response to a single tweet, our stock market took a visible plunge. Realistically, 143 points in not a major drop in the DOW, but if we consider that this drop happened in a few seconds, then the projected drop would have been something truly significant. However, in light of recent events and the hasty nature of reported news, the response of the market didn’t even faze me.

As of late, the news media has been an utter mess. With the Boston Marathon attacks and the ensuing manhunt, I’ve found myself lost in a sea of misinformation and confusing, contradictory headlines. It seems that in a struggle to report the news as quickly as possible, the validity of sources has fallen to the wayside. We have lots of news, but we also have questionable reliability.

I use a CNN news app, which makes it quite easy to recognize how absurdly varied the “breaking news” has been lately. In the span of four hours I was told that the suspects of the Boston bombings had been apprehended and then that there were no clear suspects.

Once the suspects were confirmed, their nationality bounced back and forth between Czech and Chechnyan, a distinction that is rather important. The fact that Czech officials found it necessary to clarify that the suspects were in fact from a drastically different region of Europe is rather sad. Although it is clear that the nature of recent events has intensified this issue, this trend of shaky news followed by necessary clarifications is not confined to this past week.

This latest Twitter incident simply serves to show how much of an impact social media can have. In Boston, Twitter may have warned people to stay off the streets during the search for suspects, but on Wall Street it incited a wave of panic. To be honest, Twitter is a mystery to me, and I wish to keep it that way.

The speed at which social media shuttles news is slightly horrifying, especially when you stop and consider the possible impacts of a single unwarranted post, tweet, etc. Of the more than three thousand people who retweeted the false AP tweet, how many of them actually knew what was going on?

I understand that those people must have trusted the AP as a credible source, but it’s alarming to think about how much we’ve learned to trust something as trivial as a tweet to be a vessel for truth. In 140 characters, I don’t think that any bit of news can be accurately given. Really, it’s a bit disturbing to think that the AP even has a Twitter account. The quality of reporting that I expect from the AP dictates much more explanation than Twitter allows.

Perhaps the compromise of accuracy for speed is one that both journalists and the public will have to accept. Yet, with this sacrifice comes the caveat that our news must now be taken with a grain of salt. Next time a major story breaks, I know I’ll hesitate to trust my source and perhaps wait until I see the next day’s paper.

Ashley Yarus is a freshman studying Chemical Engineering. With the onset of spring you may find her skipping around campus and smelling the fresh spring air. She would like to thank the university for planting all of those beautiful flowers and trees.