Sunday, November 29, 2009

Twitter as an original source

Criticism of the Oregonian's reporting on Ted Wheeler's ski injury sparked a Twitter discussion on the ethics of quoting Twitter posts.

Ian Malkasian (@ianmal) wrote "running stories w/ twitter as a primary source is risky & in my mind poor journalistic judgment." In another Tweet he posed the question"in the absence of no other corroborating info. is the twitter stream of an elected official on the record?"I re-Tweeted the question and got a few responses.

Betsy Richter (@betsywhim) replied "yes. In the Wheeler case, you have the photograph, which corroborates his story, plus the Tweets from his wife. plus he's already gone on record as stating communicating via Twitter/Facebook fosters government transparency/good comms practice."

T.A. Barnhart wrote "Ted thinks so."

Ronald Morgan (@rhyzome) answered "Um, yeah, as is an email, phone call or any other media."

Suzi Steffen (@SuziSteffen) directed me to an episode of OPB's(@opb) Think Out Loud (@thinkoutloudopb) from October, in which Ted Wheeler, who was a guest on the show, discussed his thoughts on the the benefits of using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. "When you read the Tweets, they come from me directly, warts and all.... What you see on Twitter is what you get. That is your county chair." He goes on to say that Tweets are governed by the same public records laws as e-mail and other public communications. "I just assume that everything that I put out there is public information..." he explained. He did note that the law has not been able to keep up with technology, so this may not always be the case.

I'm interested to hear more thoughts and opinions on this topic.


Anonymous said...

one thing not discussed in depth so far is that Ted Wheeler's Twitter account is a known commodity. a tweet from that account (@tedwheeler) is from Ted & to be trusted (unless it's an obvious spam; this happens). so when he announced he'd be been hurt, etc, those of us following him knew it was a fact. and virtually everyone reporting on it, from to the Portland Mercury and Portland Tribune (and me, at made it clear this was directly from Ted himself. it was not rumor; it was from the source. it was no different than a phone call from Ted, and even better than a call from the hospital.

it's not the content of the message that needed to be questioned; it was the source. in this case, since it was known beyond doubt to be Ted tweeting, the source was verified. stop the presses, run the story. however, Ted's account is kind of rare. Sam Adams has his MayorSamAdams account, but he does not post all tweets to it. he does post many, and it's usually obvious when he is posting. if i got a tweet from Merkley's account, a) i'd know it was a staffer sending it and 2) i'd be pretty damn sure the info was accurate and verified. same with Kitz's account and many others.

i fail to see the difference between Twitter, Facebook and anything else that provides - data, info, words. do you trust all phone calls? all letters? faxes? the beauty of certain online tools is that their existence is their proof of identification. i know that Rep Phil Barnhart's Twitter account belongs to him, that he's the lone poster to it, and that i can trust the info he posts. if i suddenly got one from, say, Kate Brown (someone i'm not following) i would know how to verify the account -- and that would let me know if the message was trustworthy or not.

you have to know how to use any tool. Twitter is a tool. learn how it works, and it can be valuable. the Oregonian should have been prepared for this. maybe they'll learn from today's incident.

Dave said...

"a tweet from that account (@tedwheeler) is from Ted & to be trusted "

Really now, are you sure every time?

Sarah Palin's account was hacked and things sent from her were not her words. Why is Ted's account not a suspect for hacking?

As a technologist, I think you should be more careful speaking about things you have little knowledge may be eating those words someday!