Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Memorandum to journalists about social media

Hello all. Sorry for the round-robin message, I know it's only a small number of you who are letting the others down but I really think I need to have a word here.

It's about social media. Yes Twitter, Facebook and blogs are exciting new platforms for communication and sharing of information. We can certainly look at them and see what subjects people are discussing. However what we can't do is this: Take one or two specific quotes from members of the public on Twitter, Facebook or a blog and act like that's the nation's opinion.

Let me show you what I mean.

Example 1: An article about Adam Ramsay in the Daily Mail.

"Last night, several messages were posted under Ramsay’s blog by readers mocking his background. One of them pretended to be his mother, writing: ‘Adam darling, We’ve got no caviar left and the staff have taken the day orf... please be a dear and pick some beluga up when you and your Uni chums pop into Fortnums... Mwah, mwah, Mumsy.’"

Stop press! SEVERAL messages? Really so lets say "at least three". Clearly what Ramsay was doing (he was alleged to have been something to do with UK Uncut) was attracting a lot of attention. Lets assume 20,000 people heard of him and his blog. And lets assume five of them wrote something "mocking his background" (I did have a look at the time, that's about right). That would be one in 4,000 people. I'm pretty sure that one in 4,000 people in this country has written to Points of View because they're "morally outraged" by Blue Peter. And at least two in 4,000 go to the pub and try to convince their friends that Elvis is alive and works in Lidl. It's not a measure of national opinion, it's a measure of the random opinions of a tiny handful of people. It hugely smacks of "I've run out of arguments to support my stupid point" and also rather of "I know I'll get my teenage nephew to write something on Twitter and then quote him in the national press".

Example 2: The Sun chucking its toys out of the pram on the proposed Lib Dem Page 3 ban.

"The ploy sparked a wave of fury on Twitter, with one user saying: 'A country full of problems and in desperate need of solutions, and the Lib Dems are voting on banning Page 3. Sheesh!'"

They have exactly one example of this "wave of fury" and it's not even from someone who says they disagree with the measure - its from someone who thinks it shouldn't be a priority. And where is this "wave" really? Twitter uses hashtags (where you write the theme of a comment in the form #Page3 so people can search for it) to allow you to see who else out of their 100 million global users is talking about a particular subject. At noon today I was interviewed on the subject by Wendy Austin from BBC Ulster. She put a post up on Twitter asking people to contact her show with their opinions. That was 14 hours ago and there have been 10 comments about #Page3 since - none of them really expressing "fury". So that's less than one comment per hour from 100 million users! The fairer news story would be to say "there wasn't much reaction on Twitter, most people were still talking about Ashton Kutcher".

Quoting Twitter, Facebook, blogs and social media on news stories is stupid and lazy. It's fair enough to quote a person who is directly linked to the news story. And it's fair enough to discuss overall trends, what were the top subjects discussed or the results of a fairly-conducted, large sample size survey. It's even, arguably, fair enough to publish a selection of responses to a particular issue from social networking sites.

But to quote "a Twitter user" or "a person who made a blog comment" is as ridiculous as saying "a man on the 24 bus said he thought the war in Iraq was a good idea" and "a woman in a blue cardigan in York agreed". It's not news, its propaganda. Stop it.

Thanks very much for your time. All carry on now.

1 comment:

Tyrus said...

Kate, what you said on this "Does heaven exist" TV show made me fall in love with you.