Hashtag: A Twitter Hangover

On Friday night Twitter went absolutely crazy. Every major news outlet was following the events in Watertown as they unfolded. And not just CNN and ABC – everyone who had a Twitter account seemed to have something to say about the situation, whether they were in America or not.

(Yes, guilty as charged.)

In hindsight, a lot of misinformation and rumours were spread.

Reddit falsely named a missing Brown University student as one of the bomb suspects, and a lot of journalists followed suit. People were quoting the police scanner as confirmed information.

And let’s not forget the confusion between Chechnya and Russia, or the initial reports that the brothers were aligned with Al-Qaeda and had only been in America for one year.

It must have been exhausting for journalists and editors to wade through all of the speculation, while at the same time racing against the clock to beat their competitors.

In this regard, it was not surprising that Twitter was ahead of the live news coverage. Bernard Keane, a writer for Crikey, commented that those following the MIT incident on Twitter were watching traditional media “dying before … [their] eyes”.


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statement (excuse my language) is absolute bullshit.

No one can deny the decline of newspaper circulation and revenue. However, if anything, events like Friday night’s only reinforce the traditional media’s role.

Reddit doesn’t present itself as a purveyor of the truth and fact in the same way that the New York Times does. Rather, Reddit – like Twitter – acts as a form of public discussion, a crowd mentality if you will.

Twitter may ‘break’ news, but traditional media outlets verify it and convey the information to the masses. Besides, what would you prefer: speculative coverage that eventually gets it right, or silence?

Just because the pace of news is quickening doesn’t mean we can expect the verification process to. It’s ridiculous to use the events of the Boston bombing as a way to ridicule traditional media.

Similarly, it’s also ridiculous to do the opposite. Reddit was slammed for getting it wrong. The thing is, Reddit never claims to get it ‘right’ in the first place.

Anyone can jump into the discussion (which is exactly that: a discussion).

Will Oremus, writing for Slate, even wondered whether Reddit users were acting more ethically than the mainstream media.

A lot of traditional news outlets also got it wrong. Remember that little slip up by the New York Post?

And to those who complained about all the Twitter coverage of Boston and Watertown – get over it. Unfollow people, or get off the internet and make yourself a cup of tea. You can’t tell people what to (or what not to) tweet about.

The same thing that drives student journalists and citizen reporters to tweet about breaking news is the same thing that draws professional journalists into the industry in the first place.

Turn your vitriol and eye-rolling into something constructive.

The question shouldn’t be ‘Why are you doing this?’ but ‘How are we as audiences, and those who make news, to deal with this?’

As Mike Masnick writes: “This happens and will continue to happen.”

Broede Carmody


Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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