A historic Twitter moment.
Over the weekend, the internet embarrassed itself once again when a Penn State student website called the Onward State prematurely reported Joe Paterno’s death. At 8:45 PM on Saturday, the website tweeted: “Our sources can now confirm: Joseph Vincent Paterno has passed away tonight at the age of 85.” CBS Sports, The Huffington Post, and SB Nation — all in a rush to get their stories up first to rank well in Google — posted stories of their own minutes later without attributing their information or checking their own sources. The Paterno family debunked the news shortly thereafter and a lot of yolk was on a lot of peoples’ faces.
The student editor of the newspaper stepped down hours later, but the aftermath has spread far beyond that, not the least of which has been the many voices blaming Twitter for the spread of false information. Ronnie Ramos of the National Sports Journalism Center offers a counterpoint here, positing that the problem is not with Twitter itself, but with simply reporting responsibly in any medium.
We here at Russian Machine happen to think that Twitter is awesome. While of course there are pitfalls to such a rapid-fire, scoop-obsessed form of news sharing, that speed itself and the ways in which information is able to be shared are changing news media every day. Mistakes happen–especially when information is not properly sourced and credited, which is a lesson that we learned again this weekend–but the sheer volume and accessibility of information is at an all-time high, even for the casual newsreader, or the casual fan.
Where Twitter has at least as much, if not even more value, though, is as a community-building tool–you can find those who share your interests by doing no more than simply clicking a hashtag. It can be great for concise, short-form discussion (CROSBY SUX!!1 / NO OVECHKIN SUXX!!), great for a communal joke (#Sh*tCapsFansSay)–and absolutely unbeatable for venting and reacting in the moment. Ravens choked at the last moment? Yell “NO! NOOOoooooo” on Twitter, as well, my entire feed did Sunday afternoon. Mad about Alex Semin’s latest stick penalty?
Mistakes and incorrect stories are hardly a new phenomenon in journalism, and it’s worth noting that as quickly as an erroneous story can be spread on Twitter, it can just as quickly be corrected, as it was in the Paterno story in that same wildfire social-media way. We love Twitter because we love you guys, all six thousand of you — it’s not quite like being able to watch a game in a stadium and talk to every single other person there, but it’s getting very close.
Additional opining by Ana Hansen.