At the same time, the world’s leading news organizations and Twitter, which has 200 million users around the world, have become increasingly intertwined in a symbiotic, if sometimes troublesome, relationship.
Dan Gillmor, a journalism professor at Arizona State University, said the hacks have especially hurt news outlets because their Twitter accounts are often the primary way that their news reaches consumers who may not subscribe to a newspaper or have access to a newswire.
Twitter has touted itself as a critical newswire of sorts, such as during the 2011 tsunami in Japan, when it helped emergency responders locate survivors, or when it became a vital lifeline for some New Yorkers as television sets fell dark during Hurricane Sandy last year.
However, two weeks ago, in the wake of the Boston bombings, some of those who previously viewed Twitter as an indispensable news source began turning against the service upon discovering that the wisdom of crowds is, in fact, an adage not often applicable on the Internet.
Steve Brunetto, a senior executive at Edgewave, a network security company, said Tuesday’s hacking undermined Twitter at a sensitive time.
“On the heels of the Boston Marathon bombing, everyone’s trying to figure out: ‘Okay, where does Twitter fit into that news cycle? Where does Twitter fit into disseminating information?’” Brunetto said. “They’ve got an opportunity to legitimize themselves as a real player in that information life cycle, but they get knocked down a peg every time somebody says: ‘Oh, you can’t believe what you read on Twitter.’”
Jeff Jarvis, a prominent Internet pundit and a journalism professor at City University of New York, said that the confusion caused by social media in recent weeks was not an indictment of social media, but rather a reminder that the onus falls on professional reporters to verify information.
“No, the Internet’s not broken,” Jarvis said.
The rise of social media means that “you now hear more bar-room debates and speculation than before,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean you should believe it more than you ever did.”
Tom Schrader, managing director for US equity trading at Stifel Nicolaus Capital Markets in Baltimore, said there were a lot of clues in the false AP tweet that should have kept traders from reacting, in particular the wording of the message.
“We saw it, we saw the initial reaction. Initially our reaction was, pull your bids [until we] see whether this is legit or not. We found no legitimacy to it and went back into the market as normal,” he said.
Oli Freeling-Wilkinson is chief executive officer of Knowsis, a London company that picks out and amalgamates financially relevant tweets and other social media content for traders.
“We do have spam controls in place, but it’s an ongoing war,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to work out what’s going on when people are hacking into official accounts, especially in the heat of the moment.”
While Twitter has occasionally signaled that it believes it could become more than a passive distribution network — a shift marked by last year’s purchase of Summify, a small startup that specialized in surfacing relevant news — it has also taken pains to distance itself from the content of tweets and maintain strict neutrality from a legal perspective.