I propose that Twitter and social media curated-news distribution is quite different compared with traditional news dissemination through television. Twitter-curated news often puts us at bayonet distance to others –human, immediate and visceral– while television puts us on a jet flying 20,000 feet above the debris –impersonal, distant and unmoved.
Interesting meditation excerpted from Zeynep Tufekci:
“As I follow the remarkable political transformations ongoing in the Middle East and North Africa through social media, I’m struck by the depth of the difference between news curation and anchoring on Twitter versus Television. In this post, I’d like to argue that Television functions as a distancing technology while social media works in the opposite direction: through transparency of the process of narrative construction, through immediacy of the intermediaries, through removal of censorship over images and stories (television never shows the truly horrific pictures of war), and through person-to-person interactivity, social media news curation creates a sense of visceral and intimate connectivity, in direct contrast to television, which is explicitly constructed to separate the viewer from the events.
Although it is the first factor most people think of, I believe that the distancing effect of TV isn’t just because TV is broadcast and social media is interactive. In fact, while the potential for interactivity is a significant factor, most people interact with only a few people on social media and people who act like news hubs do mostly broadcast—their messages reach many. (Check out this brand new study). I think the substantive differences also lie elsewhere and in this post, I want to examine two key mechanisms which alter this sense of distance: the construction of the role of the anchor or the curator, and the role of content filtering.
On television, the traditional broadcast news anchor is explicitly distant and unmoved by the events he or she is covering. This distancing is structured through the visual framing (sitting upright, staring ahead, crisp but predictable intonation, professional and muted dress), the effortless but abrupt transition from story to story … , the semi-frozen, plastic demeanor of the anchor no matter the story and the clear lack of personal involvement or concern, and the constant interruption by ads—a very surreal and disorienting experience unless one has been thoroughly conditioned into accepting them as normal. All this positions the anchor between us and the event and signals to the viewer that the event is merely something to be watched, and then you move on.
Compare that to the closest example of an anchor which has emerged during this period. I’m going to use Andy Carvin, who has been curating and anchoring about the uprisings since they began in Tunisia, sending hundreds of tweets and retweets per day usually from early morning into the night, as an example.
Carvin himself compares his role to that of an anchor, except with his Twitter followers as his producers and his news sources rather than traditional professionals. However, there are significant differences. First, Carvin is immersed in the story. He does not move from unrelated topic to unrelated topic the way a traditional news anchor does. Second, his tweets are his own words so we have a distinct sense of a person between us and the events rather than a figurehead reading words from a teleprompter he or she did not write or think. Third, he does not construct his position as one of distance and uncaring. He is not hiding his opinions or sympathies. Fourth, his news gathering and curation process is transparent–and that evokes a different level of engagement with the story even if you are only a viewer of the tweet stream and never respond or interact. I believe the fourth point is often underappreciated.
With Carvin’s constant and transparent efforts at verification and confirmation, the followers get a visceral sense of how news is “cooked.” Rather than the “final” package we encounter on television, delivered to us as a relatively infallible, ready-to-consume, product for us to uncritically accept, on Twitter curation feeds, we are often in a position to observe the process by which a narrative emerges, trickle by trickle. “Polished” and “final” presentation of news invites passivity and consumption whereas visibility of the news gathering process changes our interaction with it into a “lean-forward” experience. Carvin’s reporting is not infallible–although most of the stories from citizen-media sources often turn out to be fairly accurate, belying the idea that Twitter is a medium in which crazy rumors run amok—but it wears that fallibility on its sleeve and is openly submerged in a self-corrective process in which reports and points-of-view from multiple sources, including citizen and traditional media, are intertwined in an evolving narrative.
Thus, the process engages the “audience” not necessarily because most of Carvin’s tens of thousands of followers actually will contribute to the story or interact directly with him or his sources but because, unlike the opacity of modern production systems in which everything is delivered to the consumer shrink-wrapped, “cleansed” of hints of its origin and the process by which it was produced, news curation on Twitter is somewhat holistic, messy, and very much connected with its origins .Consequently, the foibles and pitfalls –the unverified stories, the difficulty of getting reliable news from closed regimes and war-zones, translation issues, misunderstandings—are viewable by the audience in real time.
This visibility of the process is a step in the opposite direction from French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s famous assertion that we are increasingly moving towards a “procession of simulacra” in which the simulation (“the news”) increasingly overtakes any notion of the real and breaks the link between representation and the object –often in the form of spectacle–, ultimately erasing the real. “