I’ve learned almost everything I know about politics from Twitter. When my nation’s government released the controversial drafted revision of criminal law in mid-2019, I flocked to Twitter—as many other Indonesians did—to join the mass outrage that took place within threads upon threads, replies, and retweets. Instead of opening the official People’s Representative Council website to search for that revised document, I used Twitter’s search bar.
Last year in January, an interaction between a teenager and a Native American activist during two different political demonstrations occurring near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. gained virality and triggered anger among Twitter users. As more videos emerged over the next few days, it became evident that the reporting of the incident had misinterpreted and failed to include some critical details about the situation. The high school students involved were painted as aggressors by the media. They received death threats, leading to the school’s temporary closure for safety measures and fear of impending violence.
After the first video was contextualized with previously omitted details regarding what had happened in the minutes before and after the incident, many in the media confessed they should have waited longer for more information. The thing about Twitter is that the kind of virality that ensues on the app enforces FOMO, a narrow outlook at what’s happening, and more emotional provocation than critical thinking and empathy. It’s understandable to an extent; we’re passionate, and we believe in social justice. But when our fiery reactions to incomplete stories—or even just viral tweets—ignite public outcry that shapes a significant misrepresentation in the media, we ignore the possibility of more points of view and impart media bias.
CNN political commentator S.E. Cupp said, regarding her response to the first Covington video, that she “100% regrets reacting too quickly” after seeing the new videos, and that she wishes she “had the fuller picture before weighing in.” (Read more about Twitter and the Covington kids plus what journalist Farhad Manjoo thinks about “Twitter journalism” in this opinion piece from The New York Times.)
Our generation has to admit it: we like the Twitter news sphere because it’s easy and fast-paced. All you need to do to achieve some degree of expertise on a particular subject is find a thread that discusses it. Why bother reading tedious news articles when I can just skim a tweet?
Journalists and Twitter have established some codependency where the former relies on the latter for information. Journalists contribute their legitimacy to Twitter every day, and Twitter relies on this legitimacy the same way we rely on Twitter as a news source. This cycle, according to NiemanLab’s predictions for journalism in 2020, characterizes news as a product. We’re adopting this habit of easy reading at the cost of journalists’ time and effort, ditching the necessary task of fact-checking altogether.
The trivialization of news should be compelling us to learn how we can mindfully consume what is now regarded as “modern journalism” on social media. We must fact-check all Twitter threads on heavy topics like global conflicts, socioeconomic theory, and the like no matter who wrote them. Complicated subjects conveyed in a simpler, more casual manner may be the more appealing option—but how comfortable are we in knowing that we’re consciously absorbing information without scrutinizing its validity?
An interesting article by the Columbia Journalism Review touches on the “yin and yang” of Twitter and modern journalism. As young people and non-journalists, it’s difficult for us to speak out on how Twitter should be treating journalists and vice versa without expertise. Instead, we should be focusing that energy on the way we treat Twitter and the journalists who deliver us news. But how should we be digesting all this material in the vast digital landscape?
Let’s cut to the chase: unbiased news isn’t a thing. While there are the facts—[insert event] has occurred in [insert place]—even reputable outlets still contain media bias with particular political leanings. Take The New York Times‘ preference for the left and Fox News‘ favor toward the right. Because of this, it’s good to have a go-to trusted source or two—outlets or journalists whose values and approach to news appear to align with yours. Don’t stop there, though; look for other perspectives. Dig deeper. When you encounter things that challenge your beliefs, take it as an opportunity for introspection. Avoid overly curating your news feed so that it perfectly conforms to your values. Wait for more details to transpire. Look for more perspectives and takes. This is a useful guide for avoiding misinformation—lies, tricks, and chaos—on social media. It’s pleasantly formatted and divided into numbered sections, and you should give it a place somewhere in your notes or bookmarks bar.
We’re living in a digital world where many of us have the privilege to access limitless, valuable knowledge—we should be making a conscious effort to consume news in ways that don’t harm journalists and aren’t conducive to the spread of false information. There’s time for everything; scroll through your news feed while having breakfast, when commuting, during breaks, after work. With your friends, your family, yourself. Everything is only a click away. Considering the massive amount of resources we now have in our hands, why cling to just Twitter?
By Jordinna Joaquin