Mea Culpa: No news is news on twitter

I spent a lot of time watching twitter last night. Watching the dynamics of tweets about the riots – the reports, the reaction and the rumours.

I retweeted a few things but tried to avoid directly tweeting. I had an opinion, some tweets I thought deserved a response but others responded in better ways. But then I did tweet:

Reporting that nothing is happening in your area/city? ask yourself is that really news.
@digidickinson
Andy Dickinson

I was frustrated by a steady stream of tweets from news orgs and journo’s outside of London (and at that time outside the confirmed trouble spot in Brum) tweeting that nothing was happening in their areas. Since when has journalism been about reporting something that hasn’t happened?

It was a generalised statement (well, rhetorical question) and people happily and appropriately began putting holes in it.

Of course it was worth tweeting. According to Martin Smith that’s how you stop the rumours…

@ no but it may help stem some of the wild rumours on here. #balancingact
@martinsmith1979
Martin Smith

and those rumours where causing mass panic according to Brett Cullen

@ Im not saying that, Im saying reporting that something not happening in your area,at a time when there is mass panic, is news
@iambrettcullen
Brett Cullen

Really? Mass panic all over the country? But we digress…

David Bartlett argued that’s what a journalist should do:

@ don't journalists have a duty to inform? Including to correct misinformation?
@davidbartlett1
david bartlett

as did Neil Macdonald:

@ you're wrong Andy. Lots of tweets saying rumour riots here and there. Up to local paper to set record straight. We tweeted it
@xxnapoleonsolo
Neil Macdonald

Then Louise Bolitin drove the proverbial bus right through my point:

@ actually, yes. I'm talking with other disabled, many are scared if fires start they won't be ab;e to escape
@louisebolotin
Louise Bolotin

How do I argue with that? Push the point further and I’m in danger of suggesting that it’s fine for disabled people to be worried about burning in a fire!

So, according to twitter, the answer to my original question was a resounding yes. I was wrong and I held my hands-up.

Time and place

I still think that it’s right to question if journalists and media orgs should tweet ‘nothing is happening’.

  • From a journalistic point of view statements without any context are not news.

Despite protestations of its importance ‘no news’ statements like that would never make the front page or head of a bulletin.  As Neil Macdonald pointed out that they where more information than news. Journalism as a source of information – very valid.

A few tweets did quote authoritative voices – police etc. That was better. Some proper information in there. Many did not.

  • Pushing out those statements assumes that tweets are a direct answer to the rumours.

Of course they aren’t – there is no connection to the source. Most didn’t link to the original rumour so how can people know what reports where being talked about? At best you show that nothing is happening at worst you amplify the concern to a new network.

  • It assumes that your tweets go in to the same networks and hold the same weight as those spreading the rumours

That may be true for some networks (see below), but the rumour will always travel further than the rebuttal and that’ll be beyond your network before you have any influence.  This is not like a celebrity apparently dying. It’s not a singular event that picks up momentum in the absence of any other information. This is a dynamic situation that is driving a lot of traffic. Generalised statements will get lost in the noise and new information replaces it. True or not the noise will swamp weak signals.

In this instance I thought that the ‘no news’ tweets simply served to amplify what the network already knew – at best a pointless exercise. Like spitting in the wind. At worse it created the idea of problem that wasn’t there.

I have to say (and did at the time) that Louises example proves the point.

Louise is talking to a specific network, one that she passionately cultivates and serves. Last night she talked specifically to them with information and updates that where directly relevant to them. It wasn’t rumour control, it was useful information. That’s not what a lot of the tweets where. But as she pointed out, the generality of my statement was just as bad:

@ but you just proved to me why I'm happy to see ppl tweeting that their neighbourhoods are quiet. Is reassuring for 99% of us
@louisebolotin
Louise Bolotin

I found that last statement interesting though “reassuring for 99% of us”. I think that should be 99% of us on twitter. Which is my last point:

  • Panic on Twitter does not equate to real panic

Generalising does not help.

Mea culpa

Which is what I discovered and, of course, exactly what I did with my original tweet. Lack of specifics, a broad statement left me wide open. Lesson learned and, through experience maybe point proved.

I still hold my hands up.