Twitter: A News Network in Its Own Right?

By News on the Record Archives
Cover image for  article: Twitter: A News Network in Its Own Right?

President Trump isn't the only one.  Twitter has become the platform of choice for much of the political and so-called commentary class. Scrolling through Twitter and adding one's two cents, for journalists, politicos and authors, has become what it was for eighth graders a few short years ago to spend their entire evenings browsing through Facebook.  Stephen King, for example, spends so much time tweeting that one wonders how he has time to write a single sentence for any forthcoming books.  He's just one in a sea of professors, authors and politicians who have taken their talents to the Twitter feed -- where they appear to have a captive audience.

According to a Pew study, more than two-thirds of American adults in 2018 were getting some portion of their news from social media.  During the 2016 presidential election, 35% of 18-29 year-olds cited social media as the "most helpful type of source for learning about the 2016 election," nearly triple the number that cited "cable TV."  Although the majority of Americans 65 and older still prefer cable, the share of older Americans turning to social media for news has been increasing as well.  Even if Twitter is not yet what TechCrunch called "the CNN of the new media generation," its influence would be hard to ignore.

Even if all social media is on the rise, there's something special about Twitter.  Part of it is likely due to the concision element.  Tweets are capped at 280 characters, but for most of Twitter's lifespan, the character limit was a rigid 140.  Although some have cited this threshold as a conscious decision on the part of the company to emphasize brevity, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey asserted that the original choice was an arbitrary decision based on SMS messages' 160 character limit.  (Interestingly enough, however, according to a TechCrunch analysis piece published a year after the change, the new policy did little to increase the actual length of tweets sent).  Regardless, the short and sweet carries the day, a far cry from Facebook posts the length of books.

Another aspect of Twitter's popularity is likely due to the potential it offers nearly anyone to become the pundit du jour.  Just as some restaurant owners claim that all of their clients writing on Yelp think they're James Beard, today it seems anyone with Twitter installed on their iPhone can try their hand at being George F. Will.  One is only a pithy sentence and a retweet away from a flash of stardom.  For instance, Ryan Cale, a Lynchburg, Virginia man with fewer than 6,000 followers, achieved his 15 minutes of fame on March 3rd when he garnered a "retweet" from President Trump.  It's a reach that the top commenter on the bottom of a Hill or New York Times article could only dream of.  And, even if one doesn't receive that coveted retweet, editorializing on Twitter still remains a bit more interactive than yelling at a television.

Thanks in part to this president, now it's the news outlets scrambling, on nearly a daily occasion, to create stories about what happened on Twitter the night before.  Sometimes Twitter is driving the news as much as the news is driving Twitter.  For instance, just last week it was The Hill pumping out stories on Hillary Clinton's decision to tweet a GIF from the 2004 film, Mean Girls.  Similarly, thanks to President Trump, The Washington Post now leads analysis pieces with lines such as, "President Trump announced the complete, immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria with a tweet ..."

Although some theorists argue that social media is the root of much evil today, that's probably a bit melodramatic.  With concerns about professionalism well-taken, there is, however, something to be said for politicians on both sides of the aisle being able to speak to constituents in an unfiltered way.  But there are valid concerns, too.  Jake Coyle of the Associated Press argued that "something is lost" when a Twitter sound bite replaces a long-form interview or press conference.  Russell Kirk might be turning in his grave to hear that Twitter has perhaps made his worst fear of, "... [condensing] profound and intricate systems into a few pretentious phrases" into a reality.  For those of us who maintain that one can tell the quality of a piece of writing by the number of proper nouns per paragraph -- the density of the specifics, so to speak -- one wonders if the oversimplification that social media causes might serve to cheapen things.

For those sensitive to these criticisms, it's probably not yet time to despair.  When it comes to the overlap between social media and more traditional news sources, it is particularly interesting to note that it appears Twitter serves as a supplement rather than a replacement for the more established mediums. The  Twitter news consumers, who tend to be more educated and younger than those who consume news on other social media platforms, also generally draw on a range of news sources -- not just their Twitter feeds.

One could view Twitter as another step in the 21st century's effort to decentralize knowledge, as Wikipedia has done.  More prosaically, for those who want to be the first in the office to learn what's going on, Twitter often gives the first glimpse at what will be on cable a couple hours later.  So, even if we're still debating whether Jack Dorsey and Ted Turner belong in the same sentence when it comes to news, it seems a case could be made.

On the supply side, spending the day tweeting has become almost the apotheosis of the career ladder for many in the academic and political space. After years of building a name through rolling up sleeves and hard work, a day spent tweeting every thought that comes to mind seems to be the pinnacle of modern intellectual life.  For the millions of Americans scrolling through these observations, it seems that these tweets serve as a welcome addition to -- though not yet a replacement for -- television news.

Click the social buttons above or below to share this story with your friends and colleagues.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this content are exclusively the views of the author and/or subject(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of, Inc. management or associated writers.


Copyright ©2024 MediaVillage, Inc. All rights reserved. By using this site you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.