Twitter Isn’t Harming Journalism, Journalists on Twitter Are


Jack Dorsey, the chief executive of Twitter, while testifying at a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Sept. 5, 2018. Dorsey, and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, were testifying on Wednesday about their companies’ response to foreign interference in elections and the moderation of online content. (Eric Thayer/The New York Times)

John Ziegler, writing at Mediate, has an interesting piece today headlined “The Top Ten Ways That Twitter Has Greatly Harmed Journalism and Destroyed Our Public Discourse.”

An excerpt:

I have written before about some of the many problems which exist with Twitter, the platform which now, partly because of President Trump’s love of the outlet, dominates our dysfunctional political and journalistic discourse. Specifically, I have argued that Twitter is very liberally biased, but, even worse, absurdly lacking in transparency when it comes to the seemingly arbitrary enforcement of its rather nebulous rules.

However, during the past couple of weeks, as we’ve all endured the national nightmare of the attacks on, and eventual confirmation of, Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, it has become crystal clear that Twitter has far larger issues than even just those. I have now concluded that Twitter has contributed greatly to the deterioration of real journalism, the destruction of our political dialogue, and the diminishing of the daily lives of many people, including myself.

His arguments are interesting, if familiar, and worth your time to read. But I think Ziegler is missing something important.

Is the problem the medium, or the people using the medium?

To borrow an example from the endless debate over gun control, guns don’t kill people. The people who use guns kill people.

Twitter is a platform. A medium. The content on it is generated by its users, including journalists. If too many journalists are behaving in hyper-partisan ways, or sharing too many hot takes, or sharing information which turns out to be false, whose fault is that?

Is it Twitter’s fault? Or is it the fault of the journalists using Twitter?

To be clear, journalists are hardly the only people behaving badly on social media, but Ziegler’s thesis is that Twitter is harming journalism, and my rebuttal is that it’s the journalists on Twitter who are harming journalism.

If anything, Twitter may be doing us all a public service by exposing something we weren’t so aware of before. That journalism is very often shaped by the ideology of the journalists, and that ideology doesn’t very often lean to the right. And that journalists, in the heat of the moment, aren’t nearly so careful with their fact checking as they’d like us to believe.