@Twitter: Twouble with Tweets

Twitter, the ubiquitous micro-blogging service, appears to be a harmless, lighthearted Web site that helps people stay connected through 140 character or less status updates that can be sent from a computer or cell phone. While not particularly revolutionary, it seemed like an interesting idea.

But Twitter has morphed into something no one could have anticipated. Twitter is now an instant news network. Anyone with a phone or laptop can become a reporter. People increasingly turn to Twitter when they want the news, rather than to legitimate news sources on television or online, or when they want to know what their favorite celebrities are up to.

This freedom that Twitter users have to post just about anything they choose is a threat to legitimate journalism and news reporting.

Twitter has redefined the way we look at news media. It makes news production open to everyone. Every user can be a citizen journalist, recording “news” when he or she sees it happen. The trouble with this is that Twitter users don’t have the same journalistic ethics or standards that trained reporters do. Objectivity is key in reporting the news, and “Tweeters” don’t necessarily have this standard. For many, subjective opinions get in the way of reporting unbiased news.

If people start to use Twitter as their primary source of news, a journalism industry already grappling with the rise of Internet news will be further weakened. The problem comes when people start asking: what’s the use of journalists anymore?

There is no such thing as “Twitteristic ethics,” and there is no way to guarantee the validity of anything posted to the site. This can be dangerous when there are thousands of people using Twitter who have no filter for the accuracy and truth of the “news” they read. Misinformation is spread and the line between fact and fiction disappears.

While traditional news outlets like CNN and the New York Times have tried to use Twitter as a way to improve coverage, the 140 character limit imposed by Twitter forces them to dilute entire articles down to attention-grabbing headlines. Nuances are lost and opportunities for misunderstandings abound.

As if this country’s collective attention span wasn’t short enough already, we now don’t even bother to read a whole news story once we’ve gotten all we need from the snippets and headlines posted to Twitter. Twitter has made is even more headline conscious and further diminished the need for us to use our admittedly limited capacity to understand and absorb information that isn’t neatly packaged into 25 words or less.

Seeing the incredible rise in Twitter users the past year forces us to ask the question: who should really have a Twitter account? Most Twitter users are just average citizens, leading average lives that are hardly worth constantly recording. Twitter allows people to broadcast to the world exactly what they’re eating for lunch, or what movie they’re going to see, and other mundane details. This information overload pollutes the Internet with thousands of useless posts.

Users are making their lives even more public, diminishing whatever semblance of privacy there was left on the Internet. It’s hard to decide what’s worse, reading the incoherent ramblings of celebrity Tweeters, or the painfully bland updates of everyday citizens and their private lives.

Twitter has helped expand our celebrity-obsessed culture even more. Its now obligatory for any celebrity to have an account, where we can recount the most banal details of their lives. Nobody really needs to know that Kim Kardashian is having a “delish” Waldorf salad at The Ivy, and yet thousands of users follow her and other celebrities religiously.

Are we just feeding the already massive egos of celebrities by literally following them in droves? It’s become the ultimate expression of celebrity egotism and obsession. Every week another celebrity “Tweet-war” breaks out, pitting one moron against another in a painful-to-read gauntlet of misspelled insults and retorts between teen stars. Celebrities are partially to blame for the boom in Twitter’s popularity, with people like Ashton Kutcher and Miley Cyrus tweeting constantly.

Fans see it as a way to get close to their idols by knowing exactly what they’re doing at all times, fueling unhealthy celebrity obsessions even more. We are not only feeding the celebrities sense of self-importance, but our own.

People tweet because they think their lives are so important that every minute detail must be forever memorialized on Twitter for people to bask in, but the reality is that most Twitter users live boring lives that no one else really cares about.

Twitter is an entertaining Web site, but nothing more. It shouldn’t be taken seriously when it comes to news. Being able to follow friends and casually tweet strange or funny observations is great, but a problem arises when anyone can“report the news,” a responsibility best left in the hands of those with some sort of training. Twitter was never intended to be a go-to news source and it should remain the social networking site it was created to be.

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