Social Media, Politics and Much Ado About Tweeting
Whether wielded by the White House or the reporters who cover it, social media tools can be double-edged swords. Yes, they can get the message out instantaneously, but an errant tweet from a reporter, or even a Facebook app meant to facilitate discussion on a presidential speech on healthcare, can blow up to become the issues themselves.
Yeah, I know; somewhere in heaven, George Santayana is throwing his "World's Greatest Philosopher" coffee cup at the wall, cursing yet another mangling of his famous saying about those who ignore history. But it seemed to fit, considering a famous TV reporter made news this week for tweeting a news tidbit that his employer felt he shouldn't have, even though that same employer has probably been encouraging everyone working for it to jump on the Twitter express. Then that same reporter had to delete his tweet, thereby erasing a bit of history.
I'm certainly not arguing that President Obama's comment calling rapper Kanye West a "jackass" for interrupting Taylor Swift's acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards qualified as above-the-fold news. At best, it was filler, the kind of thing that illustrates that our president at least keeps up with certain pop cultural events (please, the guy has two young daughters), even as he wrestles with healthcare reform, a pre-nuclear Iran and two wars.
For those taking a swing at inside journalistic baseball, it also highlighted the fact that ABC and CNBC share a fiber optic line; the comment was made as CNBC's John Harwood was preparing to interview Obama about weightier matters, and one can imagine the president tossing off the "jackass" line as technicians fitted him with a lapel mike and a makeup person applied one last dusting of face powder. But ABC's Terry Moran was engaging in a little electronic eavesdropping, so when he heard the "jackass" line, he jumped on Twitter and passed it along to his 1,077,910 followers, adding the unnecessary editorial comment, "now THAT's presidential!"
ABC apologized for poaching on what it said was an off-the-record comment and for not parsing Moran's tweet through its "editorial process." Moran deleted the tweet within an hour, thereby setting off yet another examination of the shifting landscape for the traditional media thanks to the advent of digital technology and social media, etc. etc., yada yada yada.
This was a minor Beltway bashing, and I'm not sure what fun it can be for journalists to have their tweets vetted by an editorial board before they pass them along to the outside world. Kind of takes the air out of that whole real-time communications revolution thing, y'know?
I'm aware of journalistic standards and practices, and Moran didn't have to stick his opinion in there. But like Linda Thomas, Seattle freelance reporter who tweets as "The News Chick" told me for my TechNewsWorld story on this: If you're a network executive and you are bugging your newsies to get with the social media program, then you have to give them a little trust.
And good luck expecting journalists to honor off-the-record when a newsmaker is wired for sound in the 21st-century -- especially when they didn't agree to the off-the-record pact in the first place. Also, if you're a reporter and you want to inject your opinion about something you may end up doing a story on, don't just check with your network's "How to Tweet" policy manual; also consider that there's plenty of news/opinion line-blurring going on out there these days -- why add to the miasma?
Obama: From Twitter to Facebook
When Obama isn't starring in a reporter's errant tweet, he's part of efforts to recapture the social media magic that helped get him elected last November. On Thursday, the White House hosted a rally for healthcare reform that targeted college-age citizens, and a special Facebook application was trotted out to build support . The app let users watch the president's remarks streamed live while letting them post their opinions in scrolling real-time status updates.
"Take the Facebook Quiz on What's in Reform for You," read one link on the page. "Read the New Report on Young People and Reform," said another. A third link urged users to "stay connected with the White House on Facebook" for more information on upcoming live-streamed events.
The real-time updates, meanwhile, were about what you would expect from the demographic that helped elect Obama. A quick glance at the scroll showed most were in support of health care reform. "Memo to the media; keep playing up the haters, it gets us energized!" typed one student. "Yes to Baucus Bill!," "Boo on the Baucus bill," "(Facebook user name) knows the quality of care will be reduced by socialized medicine" -- just a sample of opinions that hit the page while Obama gave a campaign-style speech.
The Washington Times had reported earlier about concerns that the White House was hanging on to information put on its Facebook and Twitter pages; the Drudge Report was quick to link to the Times story. In the meantime, the healthcare rally Facebook app did put the "privacy" link clearly visible just above the status update window, and clicking on that link gave a rundown of the network's policies, along with European Union regulations. Users could then edit their settings from that page.
It doesn't matter what steps are taken to ensure privacy on a White House Facebook page. The poisoned political atmosphere in this country will result in some controversy or another arising from the effort. I don't think the company will let even a president run roughshod over personal data, simply because said company has already been under the microscope regarding those issues and wouldn't want to be seen as the administration's willing accomplice.
As a columnist, right now I'm more interested in the administration's attempts to swing public opinion its way via social media and the use of live video streaming and real-time interaction with voters to help accomplish that. It's clearly an attempt to take back the momentum in cyberspace so far claimed by the president's opponents, who have had all summer to use YouTube videos and blogs to weigh in on the healthcare debate.
Introducing the Town Crier App
Prepare yourself for what could be a lame attempt to tie both the Moran tweet and the Facebook White House rally into an argument for a social media-based news service.
My Facebook friends and those I follow on Twitter are already serving as my news "filter;" they post links to stories and videos I'm liable to be interested in based on our friendships, or my respect for their judgment of those I don't know, but who may be experts in particular subjects I want to learn more about. Can we have an application that uses software magic that focuses on news-only items from my personal Facebook/LinkedIn/Twitter "curators" and streams them to me in an efficient, readable or viewable manner?
Call it the "Town Crier," and give me settings that allow me to regulate the level of opinion or unsourced blogging that's linked to by my friends. Make it mobile-friendly so I can check it out on my smartphone (or Web-enabled dumbphone, for that matter).
For all I know, there may be something like this already available. I'm not counting RSS feeds because they come from the news outlets, not trusted friends. My friends are my RSS feeds. I'm counting on them to help me drink from this 24/7 media firehose.
TechNewsWorld columnist Renay San Miguel started his journalism career with his hometown newspaper in Texas in 1979. He moved to television in 1985, anchoring, producing and reporting in Austin, Dallas and San Francisco before joining CNBC as a technology correspondent from 1997 to 2000. Following a stint with CBS MarketWatch, which included filing tech stories for the CBS Early Show, San Miguel joined CNN Headline News in 2001 as an anchor/tech reporter. He also contributed digital content for CNN.com. After his 2007 departure from CNN, San Miguel founded Primo Media and now freelances in television/online reporting and media consultation.