VOICES: Is Twitter the new newspaper?

Category:  Opinions
Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 11:14 AM
VOICES: Is Twitter the new newspaper? by Emily Anderson
Photo: Pexels.com

Last Friday night, I was watching a movie on Zoom with a friend who goes to college out of state. I’m unable to see her because of the pandemic, so we hang out on Zoom, watching stupid movies and drinking cheap wine. The movie that night: “Twilight.” But hardly 10 minutes in she urged me to pause it "right now."  

“RGB died.” She looked dead in the camera as she told me that.  

“Holy sh*t,” I breathed out, not sure how to feel.

“Can we get back on in like 20 minutes? I have to make a few calls really quick.”

“Sure.” I let her off the call and tried to collect my thoughts.

Published on The Spectator just last week was an article I wrote about verifying your news. Tip No. 1 in that article is to check your sources — look beyond what you see on social media and get your information from accredited new sites. But, going against my own advice, upon ending the Zoom call, I immediately opened Twitter to see if the news of RBG’s death was true.  

It didn’t even occur to me to check anywhere else. I thought: “Well, if it’s on the trending page of Twitter, then I’ll believe it. But if I don’t see it there, I’m not convinced.” And sure enough, there it was. The No. 1 trending topic: “RIP RBG.”

It wasn’t until Saturday morning when I was lying in bed, retweeting my “Verifying the News” article that I’d realized what I’d done the night before. I completely ignored everything I’d written. And reflecting back, I realized this wasn’t the first time I’d done this. Whenever something really big happens that would be reported on the news, I looked to Twitter first. Most of the time, I see these events reported first on Twitter. 

This got me thinking: is Twitter the newspaper of the young generations? 

Every single major news outlet has a Twitter account. Places like CNN, Fox News and The New York Times post updates in real time, reporting in small, easily digestible chunks. In 240 characters or less, they can keep their Twitter audience up to date on breaking news. That audience isn’t small either. Twitter will even show users Tweets their friends like, expanding possible viewership further.

According to Statista, an online statistics source that keeps analytics on all major social media platforms, over 60% of all users on Twitter as of July 2020 are under the age of 35. And of those users, 47% said they use Twitter as a news source.

In the last week alone (9/21-9/26), Trend Calendar, a database that records trending Twitter topics, logged 40 political trending topics. Each topic had over 1 million interactions from Twitter users, the majority of which are millennials or Gen Z.  

As much as I would like to think the young people are getting their news from news sites, I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. Social media has become such an integral part of life. For many, not a day goes by where their social media accounts aren’t checked at least once. Twitter, in particular, has become a space for young people to voice opinions. Unlike Instagram or Snapchat, both used primarily for photographs, Twitter is mainly for honing and displaying your voice. Young people, therefore, are using it to express their thoughts on current events and stay informed about the news. But is this an ethical place to get news?

Social media is obviously not the best place to get your news from. It’s a great starting point, but to get more than just the SparkNotes version of the story, you have to read more than 240 characters. Twitter has installed fact-checking software to alert users of actual fake news, which would be caught before making it to the trending page, but not everything can be monitored. Tweets can go viral, reaching hundreds of thousands of users, spreading false information. If Twitter is someone’s primary news source, they may never know bits of news were wrong.  

I think it’s safe to say many young people get their breaking news from Twitter, apparently myself included. I could not even tell you the last time I touched a real newspaper to read the news, or tuned into the news on a television station. All my news comes from online.  

If Twitter is going to be your primary new source, there are some things you should make sure you’re doing to guarantee you’re getting the best information. First, follow verified news accounts. Yes, these accounts may clog up your feed and make it difficult to see your friends’ tweets, but you need to be seeing and reading real news, not just some random person’s unresearched opinion. And before just following any random news account or reporter, check the media bias scale to make sure you are getting the best news possible. Follow local news sites to stay up to date on what’s happening in your local area in addition to knowing global news.

If a tweet links an article, read it! The small tweet included is not meant to summarize the article. To be informed, you need to read the information. And the most important tip about getting your news on Twitter? Probably don’t get your news on Twitter.

Emily Anderson is the Voices Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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