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Fake news: Do you believe everything you read on Twitter?

Alex Canner, Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Derby, talks about how Twitter plays an important role in sharing the news worldwide and how it can be manipulated to spread fake news and create citizen journalists.

By Alex Canner - 15 November 2017

I’ve got a fascination with breaking news. Who is first and how accurate is it. Recently, Twitter appears to be the fastest source for information, but not always accurate.

During my time producing live radio, it’s really what I loved going to work for, quick, ethical impartial storytelling. But the evolution of social media has meant for some time now, traditional broadcasters have a strong competitor – Twitter. It's a controversial platform and one I used to use at the BBC myself in conjunction with live speech radio.

Fake news

The biggest issue which we have to embrace as journalists is the confirmation of those stories to be true. Twitter is still the wild west in terms of ethical storytelling and the recent attack from Prime Minister Theresa May on the Russian government for planting fake stories, only shows to highlight how social media can still be used for political manipulation.

Citizen journalists

During the Manchester terror attack I saw a really great piece to camera from a young man right outside the arena with a breaking story. A perfectly set piece with the flashing lights of emergency services in the background, confused pedestrians, good lighting and sound on him, clearly filmed with his mobile phone. I had a good idea of the situation until he started using words like “bombing” and “terror attack”.

Of course we know the whole story now but at the time, this was minutes after the “explosion”. And that’s all we knew at that point – an explosion.

There is the temptation for citizen journalists to use twitter for good, but sometimes they inadvertently make the situation worse by broadcasting unconfirmed details.

Breaking news or Twitter news?

Then there are those who deliberately deliver false information fuelled by hysteria and a dark focus on getting more followers.

TV may be feeling the pinch here. If you’re a child of the 80s, there was something very powerful and fascinating about the programme on one of the 4 channels we had available being “interrupted for a special news bulletin”.

I have no base knowledge or statistics but I would like to feel that the tide is actually turning in the way that people decided to consume their news. Twitter is swamped with (sometimes high profile) people telling the same stories but with their own misguided take on it. The most responsible way to use Twitter? Learn that there is a story breaking, then go and find a reliable news source to tell you the full story. Don’t retweet bias or unconfirmed facts, but be mindful of what the public opinion on that subject is. We’re now able to tweet with 280 characters which gives citizen journalists more room to share their version of the story. Most of the times with complex news, its just not possible to understand the full context until you read or watch or listen to the story in full.

Is Twitter the way forward?

Twitter being used to gather news – or broadcast it – is here to stay and we’ll only get a true understanding of what impact it will have on more established mediums like TV over the next 10 years. We live in an on demand generation though, and I’m as guilty as the next person of sometimes being satisfied with a quick tweeted headline than a comprehensive report.

But, I’m a radio producer. Perhaps my opinion on how I find out what’s going on in the world is dated but, here’s how I know the facts sooner than anyone else: I receive a breaking news tweet, I read it and understand it… and then I turn the radio on. There’s always someone live on air who can tell it better and quicker than social media can.

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About the author

Alex Canner presenting

Alex Canner
Programme Leader BA Journalism / Senior Lecturer in Journalism

Alex is a Senior Lecturer in Journalism and specialises in broadcast media, teaching all aspects of writing, recording and editing techniques across TV, radio and Multimedia. 

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