Not long after the Boston Marathon bombings occurred on Monday afternoon, several Twitter users noted that these kinds of real-time news events illustrate how incredible the service is as a source of breaking news, but at the same time how terrible it is.
Sure enough, there were plenty of fake news reports to go around on Monday, from reports of suspicious vehicles to the arrest of alleged perpetrators — just as there were during superstorm Sandy and the school shootings in Connecticut. But does that invalidate Twitter as a news source? And should the service try harder to filter out bad information and highlight verified news reports? I think the answer to both of these questions is the same: No.
Erik Wemple of the Washington Post noted that in some cases Twitter can act as a “news ombudsman,” pointing out that there were a number of people advising cautionin the tweeting and re-tweeting of details about the blasts, although Wemple may also have been following more members of the media than the average person (ironically, some criticized Wemple himself for being too quick to post his thoughts about Twitter use during the aftermath of the bombings).
This in itself illustrates one of the problems with Twitter as a news-delivery vehicle, which is that no one can agree on the proper behavior during such events — or at least not enough people to make it worthwhile. When (if ever) is it too soon to speculate about the source of the attack or details like the number of wounded? Which sources are reliable and which aren’t when it comes to retweeting? Does everything have to be verified? Is it okay to retweet graphic videos and photos?