Some thoughts on #tweetgate or They Shoot Tweets, Don’t They?

Twitter. Twitter. Twitter. Damn you, you old media folks. Such a rucus across yesterday evening’s political wonk radio and telly coverage. Ho, you made me spill my glass of milk! Panels on last night’s Radio 1’s Late Debate and TV3’s Later with Ivan Yates attempted to pick apart the BAI’s decision to uphold Sean Gallagher’s complaint about that tweet on RTE’s Frontline right before the presidental election.

Lots has been said about the tweet – why wasn’t it checked/what was the timeline/how should it have been checked/what does this mean for old media trying to be relevant in a new media landscape and etc. The not so weird thing about the entire debate is how entirely Irish the whole undertaking has been. Really. Twitter wonks might go ape-shit over tweets emanating from new or untrusted voices, but just like Suzy has said over and over again on the whole Twitter/old media debate – the network of linked voices and old hands on Twitter tend to weed out the untrusted, unverified sources from real ones. On a flat communications landscape like Twitter, trust is usually earned and not given. The one caveat being that at election times, it’s not unusual and in some ways disgustingly human to see supporters astropitching on Twitter, setting up accounts to support their own or attack opponents. It’s not Twitter’s fault, it’s ours.

And that tweet sat out there like a reverberating bear trap while Frontline was broadcasting live. People on Twitter get excited. And of course, when they get excited, retweets are natual. Lots of crap gets retweeted on Twitter. All the time. Lies, insinuations, untruths. Tweets are subject to libel. While it may be illegal to tweet untruths, it’s a person at the end of the day that sends the tweet. To err, even knowingly, just like to astroturf, is human.

So far we have a cobweb of humanity joined together with 140 characters or less. An excitable bunch bouncing messages around and then someone on the Frontline team has a heady moment and hands Pat the tweet as part of a “reaction” segment and the rest is history.

RTE should have done their homework when for vetting the tweet. That’s totally undeniable. Lots of media organisations have fallen in love with the Twitter machine. Totally in love. Sometimes they are little too love with it, I think. Like a pink unicorn, Twitter has wafted into the media landscape offering old media a way to bootstrap themselves into a shared stream of conversation. A conversation that may contain lies, overexaggerations, allegations and astroturfing. Never! This is, unfortunately, something that they are learning the hard way.

That’s why I find it a little weird to see old media heads complain about the Twitter machine. If ever there was an industry that should be cynical about sources, it’s old media right? But then there’s other interesting thoughts that spring from that well:

  • Maybe old media is in a reactionary tailspin about this in Ireland *because* of the decimation of our tiny media landscape to non-traditional, new media outlets that thrive on Twitter and it’s ilk? Just look at the old media heads and politicians that have donned Talking Head jerseys on this whole affair.
  • How will this affect how RTE and other media organisations use Twitter? And what potentially interesting uses has RTE and other old media organisations lost because now The Twitter Needs To Be Managed and not just played or experimented with?
  • Has this sort of incident affected any other major electoral races in other countries? Why does this feel *so* Irish?
  • Reaction, Reaction, Reactionary. I can’t get past the verocity or amount of spittle expended by media and the media on Twitter about this. This is really a discussion that the media are having about media and the medium on the media. Like a snake swallowing it’s tail. To the outside observer watching at home, I’m sure (just like lots of other folks are sure) that the word “envelope” sealed it for Sean Gallagher. But media wants what it wants. It’s an important discussion without doubt, but more about ensuring best practice in verifying allegations regardless of source, right?

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