Sunday, November 1, 2015

A reminder to watch your mouth on Twitter

 Jimmy Watkins

   You wake up in the morning, what is one of the first things you do? You check twitter.  While you're watching a popular TV show with shocking plot twists, you check twitter to see what your friends think about what's happening in the show.  While you're watching a major sporting event (Football!), you check twitter to see what your friends and media members that you trust are saying about the game.  The point is, Twitter is kind of a big deal.
                                                          (Picture from  
    The twitter police are a real, dangerous entity.  These are people that will out you to someone who has the power to do something about it when you say something stupid.  Sometimes they are right for doing it, sometimes they just don't have much better to do than to get fake mad at controversial opinions.  Either way, people are getting in trouble because of Twitter all the time.  It doesn't even always happen like we expect it to.
    Take, for example, the Fox News case with their use of tweets sent in to a reporter from former rape victims.  Normally, we think of people getting in trouble on twitter as complete idiots who made an extremely offensive comment about race, sexual orientation, somebody's mother, etc.  But, in this case, Fox was merely doing its job.  It saw something interesting on the internet, and it wanted to use tweets as part of a segment on their broadcast.  However, they did not ask the victims if it was ok to use that information on the air.  It is one thing to put something on the internet, where millions of people could potentially see it, it's another to have something broadcasted on a popular national television station, where millions of people will see it.
    Fox could have definitely handled this situation much better.  This is an extremely sensitive topic, and rape victims are often understandably private about the details of what happened to them.  It's not that difficult to reach out to a few people and ask for permission to use their tweets on the air.  Even if it was ethically okay to just use the tweets, Fox should know that anytime you do something that interferes with the life of someone who has experienced a terrible ordeal, it's not going to go over well with the public.
    With all that said, there is no concrete right/wrong answer to how to use tweets on one's timeline as content in a tv show/column/radio show/podcast.  As the technology in the world of journalism improves, the guidelines and codes of the industry will become grayer.  There are just more possibilities in general.  Just like it is on every individual twitter user to walk on the right side of inflammatory tweets, it is on us as media members to figure out what to do with things that pop up on our timeline.  Do you think that ESPN reached out to Johnny Manziel for permission to use his tweet about LeBron's return?  No, because it is not something that Johnny would care about the world seeing.
    Now, people say that you should only tweet things that you would be ok with the world seeing?  Well yes, that's true, but there is a loophole there.  When people tweet something, yes, the potential exists that every human with computer access can read your 140 characters or less.  But, of the thousands of tweets about your fantasy team or American Horror Story, how many of them have had billions of interactions?  For most people, I would guess that number is low.  When a national publication/broadcast uses that tweet, their are concrete statistics that back up the idea that hundreds of thousands to millions of people will see what you said.  As I said earlier, there is a difference between millions of people potentially reading your words and millions of people actually reading them.  So, tweet on, ask permission when dealing with a sensitive topic, and in general, stay away from controversies on twitter. Not having thousands of people flooding your mentions about how wrong you are far outweighs the retweets and favorites.

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