Don't fall for the spin on social media

While it is all right to use Facebook and Twitter to supplement a report, relying on them altogether undermines the gravitas of news gathering.

Published: Fri 12 Jun 2015, 9:59 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:50 PM

During the run-up to the general elections in India last year, a lot of non-resident Indians were pleased to observe that Narendra Modi — now the 3rd most followed world leader on Twitter (after US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis) — had an almost unshakeable social media presence. It seemed as if he was there virtually for them, even if they were living continents apart. If you are a top gun in the ‘being famous’ stakes, being active on social media is looked upon as being equal to having your finger on the pulse.

So for Modi’s followers, he was (and is) omnipresent. But was/is he really? It’s a well-documented fact that celebrities (and that includes politicians) hire managers to take care of their social media accounts — be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram — and yet the rest of the world (at least the ones who are on social media) is quite content to lap up whatever is being put up for public consumption.

Sometime back, Huffington Post carried a list of celebrities who actually handled their Twitter account; it included the likes of Katy Perry, Ellen DeGeneres, Khloe Kardashian and Lance Armstrong. Most of the others, for most part, have help. Their managers are, effectively, strategists — or spin doctors — who put out posts and images that will have the maximum impact on audiences. A disturbing trend that has emerged is the reliance of journalists on social media proclamations to define the course of a story.

There are reports of Twitter and Facebook being used as resources for reporting. A recent UK study conducted by Canterbury Christ Church University and Cision reveals that 96 per cent of journalists use social media on a daily basis for work and to get story ideas from; and yet 73 per cent admitted that “accuracy is the biggest problem with social media”; a significant number believed that “crowd-sourcing will become the most important source of information”. A pity that; while it is all right to use Facebook and Twitter to supplement a report, relying on them altogether undermines the gravitas of news gathering.

Last year, a “verified Twitter account” of American comedian Stephen Colbert claimed: “I am willing to show the #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

A huge outcry followed and it became a trending top story; Colbert, however, claimed he was “not involved” in the tweet — clearly implying that his handle is handled by someone else. So why is the media still falling for social media when it comes to quotable quotes and tweets aimed to stir up a hornet’s nest — or a barrage of adoration, as the case may be — deliberately?

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