Okay, so I must admit to some confusion over what the heck we journalists are doing with the concept of verification in this new age of Twitter news. Don't get me wrong. I am not anti-Twitter. At this point in the insfosphere that would be like, say, being "anti-oxygen." You can choose that stance right now, but Twitter is the oxygen in social networking and information distribution online right now. Question though: how do we use it? I'll be real: have we lost our ever-loving minds trying to pretend we know what's going on in 140 words or less... especially when it comes to geopolitics...specifically Iran?
Over the past couple days I have been following a couple people on Twitter who have been waist-deep in "retweeting" (i.e., re-broadcasting) information about the Iran rebellion.
One of them is @GeniusBastard. (Despite my criticism-to-come of the journalistic vetting, I will say GB is top-notch and is working from a technology P.O.V. not journalistic verification P.O.V.) Anyway, @GeniusBastard was the first person in my Twitter circle that I saw re-tweeting the info from @StopAhmadi, which mixed live reports and calls for new internet proxies so that people could access the 'net despite government censorship.
The problem was that over the next couple days, @StopAhmadi and the people who retweeted started asking people not to retweet the handles of real (i.e., non-government agent, non-impostor) protestors.
So I asked this:
@Geniusbastard who is keeping track of #iranelection Twitter usernames and how are folks supposed to know who to trust?
@faraichideya Bottom line, at this point, stick with the sources you've had. We don't want to list the good ones because of Big Brother.
And three hours ago, @StopAhmadi posted this:
@StopAhmadi Going for "radio silence" now. Plz RT my previous news 'n watch 4 fake RT's #gr88 #iranelection
Add to that the idea that you can pull a V for Vendetta stunt and have everyone pretend to be from Iran ("RT Iran: pls everyone change your location on tweeter to IRAN inc timezone GMT+3.30 hrs - #Iranelection"), and you have a big fat mess.
So, how do you verify? Well... some people say, just... don't. It's a cul-de-sac you can go around again and again. I am not saying don't follow Twitter (again, that would be useless). I do want to follow Twitter, on #IranElections and all else. What I don't want to do is give up the idea of verifying information.
And neither, apparently, does John Stewart. Check his brutal riff from The Daily Show on Wednesday. (I should make it clear that while he sticks the shiv in CNN this time, the infatuation with technology-at-all-journalistic-costs is a cross-cable network phenomenon. And I don't say that because I was just a guest on CNN on Wednesday, either. Tune in to Fox and MSNBC, both of which I've also been on in the past, and check it yourself. But first, enjoy the slice-n-dice mastery by J.S.)
Farai Chideya has been a media practitioner, author, and critic for 20 years, working for places from Newsweek to CNN to NPR. She's the founder of PopandPolitics.com. Her most recent book is a popcult novel, "Kiss the Sky."