The Social Media News Cycle; Eastbourne Pier Fire

Watching the unfolding story from Eastbourne this afternoon, where the pier is now well ablaze, made me think about the way news breaks and spreads on Twitter.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Twitter has changed, and how, in some ways, it’s less useful now than it was. And how, counter-intuitively, it’s the mass take up of the platform that’s made it so.

So – Eastbourne. As the news broke, half a dozen people were Tweeting live from the scene. This was great; real time, unfiltered, verifiable by cross-checking the various accounts.

Within twenty minutes though, all the usefulness was lost in the noise. With a small number of people, you could unwrap the events and see them happen: search now, and it’s impossible to see a timeline, as the early images are lost amongst reTweets and the images have been copied, cut and pasted so they’re not even linked to the originating accounts.

It’s moved, very rapidly, from easy-to-follow first-person reportage with a clear timeline – to just noise; orphaned photos, wild assumptions, endless feedback as content loops and repeats.

And here’s the issue that Twitter faces; the more users, the more noise. And the more users, the more inexperienced users, of course, and they make more noise.

At the same time, Twitter have locked down their API in the last year, making it harder to build tools to manage their content – so it’s harder to create effective filters.

So we need two things. First we need Twitter to open up again, and let us build ways to make their content more useful. Otherwise, we have to go back to trusting corporate channels – and that rather defeats the whole point of a platform that’s opened up citizen journalism.

And second; those of us who’ve been on Twitter a while really need to help people understand the basics; only Tweet what you know to be true, check your facts, and give attribution where it’s due. Otherwise, we might see Twitter become all noise. And if that happens, we all lose.

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