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Twitter, journalism and Iran

Some questions I answered for a newspaper article on journalism and social media, specifically with regard to the Iran uprisings and the use of twitter:

1. Twitter is being used quite extensively at the moment in Iran. Could this be regarded as some kind of turning point for social media?

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I wouldn’t call it a turning point. It’s part of an ongoing trend that sees technology and the internet making media and broadcasting more accessible to people on the ground. The internet allows ordinary people to tell their stories through their own media via their blog, their Twitter or Facebook accounts, using their mobile phones or computers. This often happens in partnership with journalists in traditional media. This goes back to the blogger Salam Pax writing about the 2003 Iraq invasion or the 2004 Tsunami crisis which was documented by eyewitnesses, blogging and sending pictures of the crisis via their cellphones. So it’s part of a broader phenomenon of technology progression that has made the production and distribution of media faster and more accessible.

2. Can you comment on the way Twitter has evolved from a tool used to tell others what you are doing, to something that makes an impact on the actual breaking news platforms?

The key thing about Twitter is that it’s real-time. Real-time may be me brushing my teeth or participating in a revolution. It’s a powerful way to get your ideas and messages across instantaneously to a large amount of people.

3. What are the dangers in relying on Twitter for news?

There’s always a danger that context and accuracy gets lost in the 140 character limit of Twitter. Also, because it’s real-time, you haven’t had the time to verify. But that does not devalue Twitter in any way. Users must make a judgement call and view with a critical eye, asking questions like how credible is the source of the Tweet? How many others are tweeting that same information? Are others concurring on other social media platforms, blogs or news sites? Like all news, even that in a newspaper, readers should decode and approach with a critical eye.

4. Will Twitter or any other social networking tools be able to take the place of traditional media, or should they always be used as complementary tools?

These days traditional media plays in the social media space, and citizen media plays in the traditional media space. They’re complementary content types. A trained journalist is a useful filter, providing analysis, experience and balance to a report. But they can’t be everywhere at once, so can rely on the vast army of “citizen reporters” out there to augment their reports or tip them off on stories. Both forms work well together to enhance reportage.

5. Do you perhaps have any statistics on how many Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other users there are?

According to Alexa, Twitter is the world’s 28th biggest site. You Tube is the world’s third biggest site after Google and Yahoo. Facebook comes in at number 4 and has over 200-million users. If Facebook were a country it would be the fifth biggest in the world after Brazil. Not bad going.

6. Why do people use these networking sites?

To communicate and connect with others, socially and for business. Business is about forming networks. Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, help you create those networks and communicate to those networks.

7. Do you agree that Barack Obama won his campaign thanks to his visibility on social networking sites?

I think that was one of the reasons. There were also other reasons such as the Obama campaign creating their own social network, There was also that small matter of a financial meltdown and the most unpopular US president ever that helped Obama get to the White House.

8. How important will these social networking tools become/are already for politicians, business people etc who want to get a message across?

Big business and politicians already have the resources and infrastructure to broadcast to mass audiences, and can do it fairly quickly. The key thing about social media sites is that they have empowered individuals to broadcast to big audiences and networks. It’s empowered individuals to create their own networks and spheres of influence in a bigger, more substantial way. Business and politicians also play in this sphere because its a way of penetrating these networks and a cost-effective way of communicating.

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