Were you on Twitter this week? Between the Boston Marathon bombing, the ricin mailed to the president and a Mississippi senator, and the Senate voting down new gun control legislation, Twitter has had a high-traffic week. As the head of social media for The Triangle, it is my job to be logged into TweetDeck all day to monitor what people are saying about our publication. Usually I can let TweetDeck ping in the background while I get work done for co-op, but that was not the case this week.
Twenty-four-hour news outlets were using Twitter to send updates to the public about breaking news this week, often before an article was even published with the information. This up-to-the-second information shows how far we have come as a society of communicators. On Monday I was proud of how quickly information was being shared concerning the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Of course, there was nothing new The Triangle could have added to the reporting of the event, so I shut down social media operations for the rest of the day with peace of mind.
On Wednesday, the Twitter world was a different story, and I was not proud to say that I am a member of the media. A little after 1:30 p.m., The Associated Press broke a story that an arrest was imminent in the Boston bombing case. Shortly after, CNN reported that an arrest had been made regarding the bombing, and then all hell broke loose on Twitter. Members from the media rushed to the U.S. District Court in South Boston to be there when the alleged suspect arrived. The “alleged suspect in custody” would never show up because the whole media frenzy was sparked by a false report. Twitter flatlined after that. Oh, and then a bomb threat was called in for the Boston courthouse, which was evacuated immediately. There weren’t many tweets about the bomb threat, and I’m assuming that was because no one wanted to be the one to report false information again. Shouldn’t this be the way 24-hour media outlets act all the time?
I got into a discussion with a friend after this happened about how differently 9/11 was covered when we were younger. There was no Facebook or Twitter and fewer 24-hour channels. I was 9 at the time, and the only way I knew what was going on during the day of, and the days following, was by watching Matt Lauer on “Today.” I mean, I could have read the paper, but I was 9. I remember feeling scared during 9/11, but oddly enough, I felt more scared this past week. Putting the Boston bombing into perspective by looking back at the magnitude of the 9/11 attacks makes me question why. Should I have been more scared? Granted, I was a child during 9/11, and it was my right to be blissfully ignorant. But there were also far fewer channels of communication for me to hear and read about 9/11 and far less “BREAKING NEWS! OH MY GOD, LOOK AT THIS HEADLINE IN ALL CAPITALS!”
A few months ago my younger sister, a senior in high school, tweeted about how she reads Twitter every morning like it’s The New York Times. I can’t speak for all of the younger generation, but most of the students in my hometown have some sort of social media account that isn’t monitored by their parents. When the 9/11 coverage got intense, my mother would just turn off the TV and tell me to play outside. Do parents have that option anymore?
As an adult now, I can read a tweet that starts with “BREAKING NEWS” and warily take in the information. Although I’ll admit, the 24-hour blasting of breaking news wore me down this week. I was exhausted after the media roller coaster on Wednesday. But can a child or teenager decipher what news is important? Were they able to put the Boston bombing into perspective by looking at the other events that happened this week?
On Tuesday a student in my sister’s high school wrote on a wall in the school that a bomb would be going off in their school. After talking to another member of The Triangle staff, I learned that the threat in my sister’s school wasn’t an isolated incident; there was a bomb threat in a middle school and the courthouse of that staff member’s hometown. I am worried that with a communication channel such as Twitter — where there are fake accounts, comedians spewing jokes, and many statements of hyperbole (due in part to the 140-character limit) — children won’t be able to tell what is real and what is not, especially when the race to get the story out first leads news outlets to tweet things that aren’t true.
I am not saying that children’s use of Twitter and other social media outlets should be brought to a complete stop, but I believe that as adults, we have a social responsibility to teach them how to use the platforms. I think that just as a student takes classes in English language arts and writing, they should also be taught how to use social media at a younger age. It’s become one of the top ways they receive and disseminate information. The 24-hour hour news giants aren’t going to change anytime soon. Children and teenagers need to be taught how to put the events from the 24-hour news cycle into perspective so they can be children and not have to live in 24-hour terror.