Granted it took a civil uprising in Egypt, but Twitter is now seen as a valid place to gather and share information from trustworthy sources (and sometimes even pertaining to a little more than just what someone’s had for breakfast).
Now – following the rise of “citizen journalism” and the ability to instantly get information from reporters all over the world – close to 50 per cent of journalists use social media for research or verification purposes, a figure that is growing every year.
But there are, of course, still many people who see Twitter as being rather chaotic. The deluge of tweets, links, trends and hashtags can come across to the uninitiated as being of another language.
Then, a little while later, even after you’ve gotten used to the language of Twitter, it can still be rather frenzied. In following countless other accounts, you will see two benefits: more followers yourself and information from a huge spectrum of sources. But it will, however, make your feed “noisy” i.e. clogged up with a load of often irrelevant prattle.
So, measures have to be taken in order to cut down on the noise and pinpoint the relevant and accurate stories. This can be a difficult and onerous task, but is of paramount importance, which is something the BBC learned the hard way after coming under fire for trusting social media too readily.
However, once you manage to cut through the noise, you can find sources and stories the moment they break, often before the big news publishers. There are numerous ways and means of doing this, from creating specific groups to “muting” certain feeds. It allows you to still cast your net wide, but still manage to easily identify key pieces of information.
Tools such as Tweetdeck allow users to break their feeds up into individual groups, allowing the user to easily navigate the feeds which offer more worthy information. Elsewhere, you can use searches to verify sources or utilise search engines such as Topsy in order to quickly locate stories.
Another such tool is Trendsmap, favoured by Fergus Bell, senior producer of the Associated Press, who claims that it is a handy way of finding out the originator of a story after it has broken.
As this becomes a more commonplace method of conducting research, the ways of sourcing the information can only grow, with smartphone apps and the like offering new and increasingly user-friendly interfaces in which to conduct such searches.
Whichever method you end up using, it is certainly worth dedicating the time to using Twitter to source breaking stories. In getting information from both journalists and the newly-christened citizen journalists “on the ground”, you can get unbiased information in real-time, tipping you off to the biggest of news stories about as quickly as if you were actually there yourself.
It’s this huge wealth of news and information that has attracted journalists to Twitter in their droves, even if they have their work cut out for them in finding the relevant information through the noise.
But as mentioned previously, anyone looking to Twitter for breaking news will need to constantly have their wits about them. For example, earlier in the year Father Ted and Black Books creator Graham Linehan created a spread a spoof story of how Osama bin Laden had been watching another of his TV shows, The IT Crowd, when he was captured. As Twitter only knows how, the story was replicated with epic speed, eventually even being reported on genuine, bona fide news websites.
So when it comes to determining what is real and what may be a spoof, the result could work out to be the difference between a nationwide exclusive or a huge embarrassment which, of course, is something that’s best avoided.