Now….what was I doing this past Sunday night? Watching Downton Abbey? Only the second half. I spent much of the evening watching and tweeting the Super Bowl. I was dragged to football games as an elementary school student, because my dad was teaching at the US Coast Guard Academy, so every Saturday, we sat on chilly bleachers as we watched the cadets play all over southern Connecticut. But I haven’t attended a football game in decades, which is why I had to ask my dad (in Seattle now) what a ‘safety’ and a “snap” was. I was testing out a Fox TV sports app on our new iPad just to see if I could watch an entire program on that platform. Problem is, the 8-year-old daughter grabbed it and went to hide in her homemade cardboard house so she could watch it there. While doing so, she hacked into the alarm clock portion of the iPad and ‘set’ the alarm for three times this afternoon. When the first alarm went off at about 2 pm, I couldn’t imagine what it was.
Anyway, I was tweeting my comments to a group of journalism students who were also practicing their Twitter skills. Must say Twitter is my least favorite platform because it’s so rarely done well. Certainly by me. One of our assignments was to get analytics of our Twitter feeds. Fortunately, the link didn’t work, as my Twitter activity has been below-the-floor bad. Like maybe twice a month until I joined this class. Hopefully that will change soon. One of our assignments this week is this Steve Buttry essay (I remember him from his DC days at TBD) on how to live tweet. It’s not bad, as I think most people do a horrible job of live-tweeting. You can always tell when a newbie reporter has been sent to cover something and they know of nothing better to do than breathlessly cover everything the mayor or police officer or politician is saying or doing. Of course it does take some smarts to know how to sum up pieces of a news event in 140 characters or less, which is why I think Twitter is the worst possible platform for news. I think it works for sports but not for, say, city council meetings. I’ve seen reporters try to live tweet the latter and it’s a Zzzzzz-fest. However, nearly everyone seems to disagree with me, as evidenced by this piece on how the NYT handles tweets. Will say that I was laid off from TWT in mid-2010, just as reporters were getting into serious tweeting. Maybe I would have gotten more comfortable with it had I been on staff a year or two longer. One thing the NYT does so well is clever headlines and epigrams. I’ve never been good at that sort of thing. I found it astonishing that the writer of the piece, a social media editor at the Times, said the tweets are what readers are coming to us for more than anything else. Would like to know if people turn to Twitter over radio these days when there’s a big news event. Am guessing it’s the former.
Anyway, if you have an editor who tells you to tweet, Buttry’s advice sounds pretty good, as he suggests ways to make Tweets sound less infantile. BTW, Buttry’s bio says he was in junior high in the 1960s, which makes him older than me. And he’s gone digital, so there’s hope for us all. Upon reading this, one might ask how one knows that Tweets are true? This essay from Storyful tells how. That’s one of the best listings I’ve seen in a long time of how one can verify if a story is true and the trouble this site goes in making sure that a video from Syria really was shot in Syria is a lot more thorough than many newspapers are. Some of the terms, ie “scraping” video or Panoramio are unfamiliar to me but one of the ideas of this course is to acquaint oneself with all the new technology out there. For instance, this evening is the first time I’ve clicked on Mashable.com or Techcrunch.com, where I encountered a most enjoyable essay about Linda Liukas, a 26-year-old from Finland who’s writing children’s books that teach young readers how to do computer programming. She raised thousands of dollars from Kickstarter in a nanosecond. I might throw some $$ her way just to get on her list and follow her career.
There are a few more readings we were asked to comment on, one being a complaint against those who eschew Twitter, ie famous authors . Anyone who publishes a book these days – and I’ve come out with two since 2008 and a third is at an agent now – knows they are mad not to use Twitter. Part of the reason I’m in this class is that I am bewildered on a lot of the mechanical aspects. The author says that she ‘talks’ with the editor of the WaPo Book World via Twitter. How so? Last I looked, you can’t ‘talk’ with anyone unless you’re both following each other and most of us aren’t high brow enough to rate a second glance from any newspaper book editor. And when I was on a newspaper staff, I’d find 200+ fresh emails waiting for me when I got to work, with loads more to come throughout the day. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be getting tweets as well. It took me the first two hours of the day to go through the email and scan various headlines and wire stories before even starting to write or pitch stories. There is a whole science to tweeting news about your book or tweeting free giveaways, etc. However, Facebook is a far better platform for new works than Twitter. You can create a better community there, post more pictures, etc.
We were asked to find a recent academic paper about Twitter – not as easy as it sounds as Twitter is quite young and it takes scholars awhile to do research – and I located “When Retweets Attack: Are Twitter Users Liable for Republishing the Defamatory Tweets of Others?” Written by Daxton Stewart of Texas Christian University, it appeared last June in the Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. The article asks if you can be sued for retweeting a tweet that was later found to contain libelous information. For instance, if a newspaper published a tweet saying “Julia Duin accused of mass murder” and it turns out they’d put the wrong name in, I could sue not only the newspaper but the thousands of people who retweeted this to their lists. This is not a silly question. Here’s what Slate said about the problem. And plaintiffs have a point. Once you link someone’s name to something, even if it’s debunked later, that link lives on forever in cyberspace. The article starts by pointing out that no court has ruled whether retweeters can be held liable for simply repeating false statements. However, there have been fines paid out by people, ie actress Courtney Love, who originated the defamatory statement.
In the newspaper world, journalists have gotten around this dilemma by saying a person “allegedly” did this or that or “is charged” with certain things, particularly if it’s a law enforcement agency or court saying this. We call this the “wire service defense.” But in this era, when everyone thinks they are a journalist because they publish content, most ordinary people don’t know how to word defamatory material so as to put some doubt around it. The paper goes through several contradictory court rulings on the topic, noting that Twitter in its terms of service does not take responsibility for what people publish online. What’s stopped a lot of libel suits is the 1996 Communications Decency Act, specifically section 230. That shields retweeters (although Twitter wasn’t founded until 2007) and those like them by listing them and bloggers, etc., as “users” or “providers” not responsible for any fallout by content they repeat or republish. However, if you add content to a tweet, you are more liable, whereas if you merely republish a tweet, you are not. The author concludes that the whole area is somewhat of a legal mess, in that various court rulings reach down to the miniscule (ie whether the user is “malevolent” or not), so expect to hear more about this. Making retweeters liable for defamation might be a good thing. These days, everyone wants to be a journalist but they don’t want to take on the responsibilities and liabilities of the profession.