Social media: Should journalists stop tweeting?
“Twitter is ruining American journalism,” said Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times. This much was clearly evident in the wake of the Covington Catholic incident in Washington, D.C., in which journalists who should have been bringing out the facts instead shut down dissent and turned into “knee-jerk outrage-bots.” The details aren’t germane here. What matters is the way the “saga illustrates how every day the media’s favorite social network tugs journalists deeper into the rip currents of tribal melodrama”—not to mention “mob-and-bot-driven groupthink.” Look, journalists, when they’re at their best, are “curious, intellectually honest chroniclers of human affairs.” They reserve judgment until after the facts are in. But Twitter consistently undermines the angels on their shoulders. Instead, reporters become conditioned to “offer an opinion before much is known—because by the time more is known, Twitter will already have moved on to something else.”
“I used to think the transparency of Twitter helped improve trust in the media,” said Brian Stelter in CNN.com. No longer. Journalists now create free content for Twitter, and it just goes into the same pot with all the shouting and insanity and hatred that fills so much of the platform. A friend of mine in Silicon Valley wrote to tell me that people no longer trust what journalists say because Twitter has now pushed reporters “down in the mud with the bots and the bad-faith actors.” Broadly speaking, this is true, said Kevin Williamson in NationalReview.com. But Twitter isn’t the infection. It’s a symptom of the disease. The real issue is how vaunted media outlets like The New York Times allow partisan polemicists to masquerade as unbiased journalists—and ones all too happy to be “made weapons” of the Twitter mob. Let’s be frank: “If [New York Times publisher] A.G. Sulzberger were doing his job, it would matter less to our civic culture” whether or not Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was doing his.
The plight of journalists on Twitter is instructive for other professionals too, said Lionel Laurent in Bloomberg.com. Let’s take, for instance, billionaire bond trader Jeffrey Gundlach, or Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Gundlach tweeted that the head of French bank Société Générale S.A. was “moronic.” Musk’s tweet claiming he had funding to take Tesla private cost him a $20 million fine and Tesla’s chairmanship. The temptation to interact directly with your public can be irresistible. But “how long before clients start to gauge a fund’s performance from the agitated tone of its manager’s tweets?” CEOs and others in business imagine they can control themselves and tweet with self-restraint. It won’t work, because “the medium is the message, and the medium is toxic.” ■