Whilst I admit I was late to the Twitter game, I now fully embrace it as a part of my every day life. Last weekend it provided me with all the info that I could have wanted from the GB Rowing squad trials – a closed event with only selected media present, opened up thanks to the power of the crowd.
Instant details of winners and times – and a healthy amount of YouTube links – meant those of us with an interest in rowing could see the minute-by-minute performances of each individual, something that used to only be reported as an official roundup at the end of the weekend’s racing.
We all know by now that Twitter has the potential for good, but the past few days have again shown how the power of Twitter can get out of hand and re-sparked the debate over whether Twitter is a tool for evil, rather than good.
Yesterday’s dramatic plunge on Wall Street, the result of a single tweet sent out when the Associated Press’s account was hacked, shows how immediate and serious the reaction can be to messages left on the network. In this case, a 143-point fall on the Dow Jones happened almost instantly in response to a tweet saying Obama had been injured in a White House attack.
In the end the impact of the tweet was, thankfully, minimal and the markets returned to normal as swiftly as they fell, after AP retracted the tweet. Did those traders feel stupid for reacting so swiftly to the false information? Possibly, but it’s hard to blame them for doing so – they would have almost certainly felt even more foolish had it turned out to be true and they hadn’t reacted.
I’d instead point out how this event stands in stark contrast to other recent events. In particular, the role played by Twitter in helping apprehend the Boston bombers was praised by many, notably for the speed with which the network spread the suspects’ images, once they were released by the FBI, to users worldwide. This was made all the more laudable when the traditional rolling news sources were simultaneously being criticised for poorly sourced and often wrong reporting of the same events.
In fact I’d firmly argue Twitter has proven itself to be a force for good in the modern world. By allowing users to instantly and publicly report on their lives and the events they encounter, it has exposed corruption and helped overthrow regimes across the globe.
Rather than being a sign of Twitter as a tool for evil, the recent AP incident has instead exposed a tendency of many to put too much stock in the service. Had users taken a moment to think “Is this really true?” before they reacted, they may have avoided a situation that had the potential for serious consequences.