The Purpose of a Tweet
Television networks have a long-standing Election Day policy: no winners until 11 p.m. But that was before Twitter and Facebook. The days are long past when we wait for Tom Brokaw to deliver the results. Homes have computers, and the growth of Twitter and Facebook means you can get information in real-time. For example, millions followed the presidential debates with Twitter, turning catchphrases like Mitt Romney's "binders full of women" or President Barack Obama's "bayonets and horses" into household slang. But the immediacy of social networks means confusion over who really won, and it creates difficulties for networks that don't want to sacrifice accuracy for speed.
Why Networks Wait to Call a Winner
Calling an election early isn't new -- nor is being wrong. One of the most famous election photographs is of a gleeful Harry Truman holding up the front page of a Chicago Tribune that announced in huge headline font: "Dewey Defeats Truman."
The problem was, then-New York Governor Thomas Dewey, who was heavily favored in the race and by the Tribune, hadn't won. The paper had even called Truman a "nincompoop" in an editorial -- fighting words then and now.
But the Tribune's workers were on strike, so the morning edition had to go out earlier, even before the polls closed. The company had to make a choice -- announce now or risk losing sales. It picked Dewey, which turned out to be a mistake, and 150,000 copies went out before the paper realized the race was closer than expected. In the second edition, it changed the headline, but the damage was done.
Fast forward to more modern times. It's a lot easier to make mistakes when news is immediate, and networks have announced the wrong winner more than once. If you do that before polls close on the West Coast, many voters stop casting ballots, particularly if they think the race is settled or if their candidate lost.
Networks kept past mistakes in mind when they prematurely called Florida's race for Al Gore -- and then for George W. Bush.
Why Waiting Is Hard to Do
The public demand fast news and Internet -- especially Twitter and Facebook -- pressures organizations to make premature announcements. After all, why wait until midnight to hear CNN or Fox News announce a winner? You can get it right away on social media.
Four years ago, the Internet didn't hold great influence over organizations. In fact, just a few sites, such as Slate and Time, reported early that Obama would win. The announcements came well before television stations and major publications called the election because polls were still open. But traffic on Twitter and Facebook skyrocketed, and media now regularly scours the sites for tips on scoops.
In 2008, Twitter had six million members. Since then, it's grown to 140 million daily users -- and even more during a major event. Meanwhile, Facebook has grown since the last Election Day as well. In 2008, it boasted 150 million members. Now it has over a billion, all sharing and passing status updates and rumors as if they're fact. Today, the Twitter and Facebook are the real "swing states," offering the platform for to discuss issues. In fact, the candidate with the largest activity has an edge in the race.
Outlets can't escape the fact that millions are online, clamoring for information. And they'll get it one way or another -- and repeat it, even though it may not be correct. So even though networks plan to make announcements after the polls close, people on social media won't. And not all of them will be so-called armchair quarterbacks, but rather official sources that tweet results before the final bell.
A Complicated Race
Complicating the matter, the race is still too close to call. Most polls project Obama to win the race, but only by a percentage point or two that may shift without warning. Social media isn't the only development that can affect the outcome -- many voting measures impact the race as well, making it difficult to call.
For example, the electoral votes from Ohio will likely decide the race, as well as the more than 200,000 voters that have yet to return their absentee ballots. They had until midnight on Monday to postmark their ballots, but those votes won't be counted until November 16, according to Ohio state law. In addition, if you requested an absentee ballot, but go to the polls instead, your vote will be considered "provisional" until it's determined you didn't actually vote late by absentee ballot.
Ohio is just one state that faces that issue. Several others, including Pennsylvania and Colorado, can swing either way, meaning the race may be uncertain until the last ballot is counted. Tweets can circulate reports faster than traditional outlets, but counting paper ballots is still the most accurate, yet time-consuming, process.
In addition, if the race is close, an automatic recall and legal challenge is possible. These factors add to a delicate situation, and networks say they won't definitely project a winner until 11 p.m. -- no matter what social media reports.
"I'm not even going to guess what time it will be," said Marc Burstein, the senior executive producer for special events at ABC News told the New York Times. He predicted caution this year because of the trend of early voting in many states.
Networks are already embarrassed after repeating rumors spread on social media, so they'll take precautions to vet sources before presenting it to the public. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy last week, CNN repeated a false rumor about a flood at the New York Stock Exchange, adding further panic to an already-tense situation. Organizations won't rush to call the race, even if social media and the public clamors for results.
"In a close contest, we'll simply wait," said Sam Feist, CNN's Washington bureau chief, reiterating the journalism rule to be right than first.
News and Social Media Warnings
News organizations take their responsibility for fair, accurate reporting seriously, and they know misinformation erodes the trust in them. The Associated Press, for example, told employees "not to blindly retweet what others may be saying about election results."
"We strongly discourage AP staffers from posting, tweeting or retweeting others' calls," the memo said. "People view all of us as speaking for the AP. If we tweet another organization's call, we may imply that we endorse the other organization's decision. At worst, we may deceive the public by spreading bad information."
But reporters won't ignore social media. For example, Katie Couric will join Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos with the social media reaction.
Who Should You Believe?
When it comes to social media, as always, it pays to use your common sense, and Election Day is no exception. Misinformation will be rampant, and some of it will come from organizations trying to get the jump on one another, despite vows to get the information right instead of first.
Outlets won't post a call until after 11 p.m. to give West Coast voters a fair chance to cast ballots without being influenced. So simply put, if you see projections on social media an hour after voting booths close, that's misinformation and you should wait for solid proof.
In addition, the race may well be so close to call that it can't be called -- and we'll all just have to wait a few more weeks to find out who the president will be, not matter how many Twitter users tweet that they know who won.
Finding a Role for Twitter in Courtrooms
The trial of Anders Behring Breivik, accused of killing 77 people in Norway, is raising questions about the increasing use of Twitter in courtrooms.
Live-tweeting from the Norwegian courtroom is fueling the debate, as local reporters, and those from international news outlets, transmit the latest news, often in excruciating detail. For example, The Guardian's blog showed a picture of Behring Breivik saluting as he entered the courtroom last week, and similar images and descriptions circled the globe at lightning speed.
Criminal trials generate huge public interest, and the curiosity escalates along with the heinousness of the crime. Reporters are able to tweet up-to-the-minute details of court proceedings, but as the technology continues to respond to growing public demand for information, society is considering what role, if any, is appropriate for the micro-blogging tool in the legal arena.
Those who think live-tweeting is reaching overkill point to the added notoriety it gives the accused, who likely is reveling in the attention. A tweet from Diana Magnay, international correspondent from CNN Berlin, underscores this notion: "ABB looks pale, composed, groomed. Described in last psychiatric report as having 'narcissistic' personality, grandiose self-image."
The public exercises its right to know the details, but the debate is broadening to include victims' families' rights to privacy. Many reporters are tweeting details of those who hid and tried to escape the massacre, a notion upsetting to many families who feel these tweets are not a suitable representation of the horror their loved ones endured.
When does providing transparency to court proceedings turn into something not so noble, something that can even work against the cause of justice the courtroom is designed to ensure?
A hint to that tipping point comes from one of Norway's major newspapers, Dagbladet, which established a version of its website with a button that removes any mention of the trial, allowing users to read the content without being assailed by often grisly information or details of the accused's ideology
Also, sentiment is also growing over more thoughtful consideration of how to responsibly use newly emerging social media in court proceedings could set up ground rules.
Late last year, a U.K. judge determined journalists no longer need permission to tweet in U.K. courts, because it promotes fair and accurate reports of the proceedings, but the prohibition on cameras and photography will remain. And those who use electronic text are strictly bound by the existing restrictions on reporting court proceedings under the country's Contempt of Court Act.
The Lord Judge cautioned the practice could undermine the system if witnesses, who are out of court, learn what has already happened and then get coached or briefed before they testify.
Beyond reporters' using Twitter, U.S. courts are grappling over how jurors tweet.
Recently, the state Supreme Court in Arkansas granted a new trial to a death row inmate after a juror was caught sending Twitter messages during the original hearing, even after being warned by the trial court judge to stop.
The public nature of Twitter raised the juror's tweets to the level of public discussion. The tweets were deemed inappropriate, according to the ruling, which added that unrestricted access to mobile phones during a trial puts jurors at risk of a wide array of juror misconduct and could be a basis for review of mobile device access in courtrooms.
Few would doubt how instant communications via handheld devices create a circus-like environment during serious criminal trials. This was the case last summer during the Casey Anthony case, where social media, live stream trial proceedings, apps with latest updates and interactive features, and text message subscriptions fomented interest in the trial.
The pressure for news agency to deliver information to an increasingly data-hungry public will likely continue to ramp up at the same time courts and reporters debate the role of mobile devices to preserve the legal process for all involved -- including the witnesses, jurors, defendants and victims' family members.
Tweets as Evidence
Police arrested Malcolm Harris for disorderly conduct when he blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge during the protests. This week, New York City Criminal Court Judge Matthew Sciarrino upheld a court order for the information and told Twitter to hand over access to Harris' account, since the prosecution believes his tweets confirm he knew his actions were illegal. Harris maintains the police directed him to the bridge.
Sciarrino said Twitter needed to give up Harris' account information because people using Twitter to communicate have no reasonable expectation for privacy. He compared tweeting to shouting out a window and dismissed the idea that accessing Harris' Twitter account violated the 4th Amendment.
Even though Harris made his account private and removed some potentially inflammatory tweets, Sciarrino noted websites like Politiwoops purposely capture tweets politicians and other figures try to hide. Those websites screen capture tweets as they happen from political figures and other Twitter celebrities, so they can highlight when these people try to delete or change tweets. Since Harris is not a Twitter celebrity, however, his tweets did not appear on this kind of website, so the court needs his account information to see them.
Also, Sciarrino highlighted a website called "Tweleted" in his argument, which used to help people recover their deleted tweets. However, it has been down since 2009, suggesting the judge did not do his homework very thoroughly while crafting his statement -- Twitter fixed the bug that allowed people to access the deleted tweets.
Hiding Behind Twitter's Terms of Service?
In light of Twitter's recent transparency report, which shows the U.S. leading the charge for information requests, this particular incident takes on an emblematic quality, since it is a criminal case with decidedly political undertones.
Twitter complies with 75 percent of U.S. requests for information, but in this instance it is trying to fight for Harris, and a Twitter spokesperson said the company is weighing its options.
Sciarrino's reasoning is off: if Harris had left his tweets up for the world to see, then certainly there would be little recourse if the police got hold of them. But he displayed savvy about how Twitter works by protecting his tweets, which suggests Harris believed he could hide the tweets based on Twitter's terms of service.
Since Harris displayed knowledge of Twitter that suggested he knew how to obfuscate controversial postings. After all, no one needs a subpoena to hear something openly yelled. At the same time, deleted Twitter messages figured heavily into the highly publicized trial of Dharun Ravi, so the idea of courts admitting tweets removed from the public view is certainly not unique to Harris' case.
Potentially Crossing the Fine Line
But even if Sciarrino's statement about tweets becomes a standard for handling Twitter cases, it is troublesome to see members of the U.S. justice system trying to pry Twitter open for evidence. The micro-blogging site served as a potent organizing tool for revolutionaries in the Middle East despite attempts from regimes in places like Syria and Egypt to squash their communication, and the U.S. supported these protestors' actions.
If a U.S. judge diminishes freedom of communication on Twitter by saying that nothing is private, even direct tweets between two protected accounts, it sets a terrible global example. It is especially troubling since the U.S. is also ramping up its demands on Google, illustrating that government officials and agencies want more access to personal information from the Internet.
Sciarrino acknowledges Twitter's role as a platform for exercising free political speech in the conclusion to his decision, and notes that the Founding Fathers would have defended the right to speak freely using the website. He draws the distinction between public and private, noting, "The Constitution gives you the right to post, but as numerous people have learned, there are still consequences for your public posts. What you give to the public belongs to the public. What you keep to yourself belongs only to you."
The problem with his decision lies in that the tweets in question are no longer publicly available, and were composed for a select network of people. They are not public statements akin to material published in a newspaper or on an open blog. They are only available once Twitter cedes access rights to government officials, which speaks to the ambiguous nature of online privacy.
Everything on the Internet leaves a data trail, so perhaps Harris was naïve to think he could keep his tweets from the authorities. At the same time, people do enjoy an assumed privacy while using personal e-mail accounts, and even direct Facebook messages. If Harris assumed his tweets could be protected or expunged from the site's public element, and that his account was his own property -- which, according to Twitter's terms of service, is correct -- he assumed a degree of privacy very different from Sciarrino's conception of Twitter.
If You Go Out and Don't Tweet, Did You Really Go?
What did you do yesterday? According to a new movement, if you didn't track it on your smartphone, it didn't happen.
Facebook and Twitter ushered in an era of unprecedented self-documentation, and the burgeoning "Quantified Self" movement is taking it a step further, using mobile technology to tally up the minutiae of day-to-day life.
People in the "Quantified Self" movement find satisfaction in turning their daily activities into easy-to-digest infographics, and some want to understand themselves better through this thorough examination. They credit this behavior with helping them lose weight, manage money and even find love, and take pleasure in gauging their habits and productivity.
An astonishing number of apps monitor users' every move, providing details and analysis about their behavior -- and the new "datasexuals" love it.
Every Little Thing You Do is Magic
MoodPanda lets users track their moods. Mint keeps track of where, when and how people spend money, down to the last dollar. FourSquare kicked off a mushrooming location-tracking trend, and new apps like Highlight, Glancee, Solar and Banjo track users' locations while connecting them with like-minded locals.
There's a glut of apps for keeping track of workouts, be it miles logged or time spent at the gym. Daily calorie intake, daily coffee intake, minute-by-minute breakdowns of online browsing... almost everything that could be measured is already being measured, and there are personal tracking tools like Daytum that aggregate info on daily activities.
The website Quantified Self provides information and forums about the lifestyle, and features a comprehensive list of tracking sites.
What Does All the Data Add Up To? Not Much
Some of these apps have practical uses, helping people objectively look at how they use their time and money, but the "Quantified Self" movement runs the risk of overemphasizing quantity over quality.
Who cares how many minutes you log at the gym, if you spent half the time checking yourself out in the mirror? What does it mean if you're the Mayor on FourSquare of your local pub, but you go there alone every day? This movement believes closely logging life will make it better, but the intense focus on chronicling everything gameifies life and may dismiss anything that occurs off the grid.
People are live-blogging and live-tweeting important life events, even formerly intimate moments like marriage proposals. Are these obsessive tendencies helping keep track or demoting the real events beneath the process of recording them?
T.S. Eliot's title character in "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" bemoaned measuring out his life in coffee spoons, struggling to break free from the customary markers divvying up life. The "Quantified Self" movement revels in the very thing Prufrock yearned to escape, measuring out lives in gym visits, work hours, and even cups of coffee. Is this good or bad? The movement certainly verges on excessive navel gazing, although its practical uses can't be ignored.
How Twitter Boosts the World Cup to New Records
The FIFA Women's World Cup set a new Twitter record for the highest rate of tweets per second on one topic earlier this month, illustrating how integrated the social media is becoming in the world of sports.
Twitter announced the news with its own celebratory tweet after Japan beat the U.S. in the women's final game, "New Tweets per second records! End of the #WWC final: 7196 TPS."
The 7,000-plus milestone eclipsed the record set in May when Osama bin Laden was killed, as well as the 5,000 high reached five separate times during Japan's devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Many fans and pundits across the globe consider this year's World Cup final a classic, after Japan beat the Americans 3-1 on penalty kicks after a 2-2 tie in extra time.
Japan's team, called "Nadeshiko" after a frilly pink carnation that symbolizes beauty and stoicism, stunned the soccer community with their astonishing run, beating out Germany and then Sweden before silencing the U.S. in the big game.
Several famous names joined in on the record-setting Twitter celebration, including fashion maven Nina Garcia, who tweeted, "Thank you so much Japan and US for this amazing game. You showed us a lot about courage, perseverance and hard work."
President Barack Obama took to Twitter, too, passing along his pride in the women's team and congratulations to Japan. And, around the planet, people caught up in the excitement tweeted their comments, cheers and support on Twitter, showing how the media is expanding beyond breaking news and becoming the digital age's virtual sports bar.
The excitement over the remarkable victory over the U.S., Asia's first soccer world title at any level, was tempered a bit when some of the team's players over-celebrated. And, just like the final minutes of the big game, Twitter helped publicize these off-the-field exploits as well.
Saki Kumagai, the defender responsible for the historic World Cup-winning goal, received a warning by the Japan Football Association after a fellow celebrant began Tweeting the remarks she was making while reveling in the win with friends in Germany. 20-year-old Kumagai reportedly criticized coach Norio Sasaki, described the clubhouse's atmosphere in negative terms, and showed a nude photo of teammate Karina Maruyama from her mobile phone.
Kumagai was rebuked by JFA vice president, but beyond the specifics of her comments, the Japanese soccer player's unfortunate post-victory tweeting incident is a prime example of the influence the 140-character tweet has among athletes and others in the sporting world.
Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated announced its first ever "Twitter 100" list, naming those the magazine considers the most influential Twitter handles in sports.
The magazine polled more than 50 of its staffers identified as hard-core Twitter users to get a feel for the feeds they considered essential in their daily consumption of sports news, information and entertainment -- including players, broadcasters, agents, attorneys and reporters. Twitter users picked players not for their amazing talents on the field, court, ice, or ballpark, but on how well they used the social media.
The NHL's Paul Bissonnette @BizNasty2point0, with more than 115,000 followers, was named by the influential magazine as the top pick, stating by way of explanation, "He may be a fourth-line grinder, but Bissonnette is the most entertaining hockey player on Twitter."
Of Irish golfer and recent U.S. Open champ Rory McIlory, whose @McIloryRory has over 540,000 followers, SI said he "isn't prolific, but he posts fun pictures and doesn't censor his charming, goofy, fun-loving personality."
And, the fairer sex is well represented, too, with the U.S. women's soccer team's midfielder Megan Rapinoe, who has nearly 50,000 fans following her @mPinoe tweets, making the list.
Non-athletes include ESPN's fantasy analyst and Howard Stern fan Matthew Berry, soccer writer for "The Times of London" Oliver Kay, and one-stop shop for Premiere League soccer needs -- and 23 year-old American chess Grandmaster -- Hikrau Nakamura.
The stunning victory, the touch of scandal, and the rise of rankings for Twitter specialists all recreate the way the players in games of sport interact, and will continue to do so.
Looking to Twitter to Ease Traffic
Last year, U.S. highway 405 in Los Angeles closed down for two straight days, in what many called "carmageddon." A 10-mile stretch linking the San Fernando Valley to the west side of Los Angeles was shut down for about 53 hours causing chaos for an estimated 500,000 motorists.
"If you think it's bad now, let me just make something absolutely clear: on July 16th and 17th, it will be an absolute nightmare," said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Municipal officials encouraged TV news, print media and other traditional outlets to spread news of the closure, holding multiple press conferences to encourage motorists to steer clear of the area. But they are also spreading the word via the Internet, apps and social media to drive home the message.
And, California being California, the Los Angeles Police Department contacted hundreds of celebrities, many who tweeted news of the closure to give their followers a "heads-up" on the upcoming traffic nightmare.
Ashton Kutcher cleverly tweeted, "LAPD askd me 2tweet: 405fwy btwn 10 & 101 will b closed July 16-17. In xchange, I would like a free pass on that stoplight tickt IT WAS YELLOW." Actor Eric Roberts joined the campaign, too, tweeting, "Nothr tip frm CHP: The freeways aren't free if U pay with your life. Buckle Up!"
Celebrities have a downside, too. Kim Kardashian jumped the gun, advising her eight million followers of the wrong weekend. When notified of her mistake, she referred to the weekend before the closure, getting it wrong yet again. She proved the third time was indeed a charm, and her persistence got the word out.
Finally, Lady Gaga jumped onboard as a Twitter traffic cop, promising to tweet public service updates about the closure along with general updates and glamorous observations to her 11 million followers.
"The whole idea is just to re-message the theme of avoiding the 405 area and that it's going to be a mess if people don't stay away," said LAPD spokesman, Lt. Andy Neiman. "Twitter is a way to reach that whole demographic that could be oblivious to the 405 closure for that weekend."
In addition to the social media campaign, officials pointed citizens to apps for critical up-to-the-minute reports of detours, arterial street traffic and other observations. Traffic app Waze, which provided real-time, turn-by-turn road reports in exchange for Waze community credits, teamed up with local news station KABC to offer on-air updates for motorists.
"We'll be giving the real-time citizen perspective on all detours, not just the ones that the city provides," said Di-Ann Eisnor, vice president of platform and partnerships at Waze.
The freeway closure and bridge project aws part of a $1 billion project to improve the city's roads, and included free subway rides, additional buses and traffic engineers on stand-by to manage the ripple effect on nearby roads and intersections.
"This doesn't need to be carmageddon," said County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky. "The best alternative route is to totally avoid the 405 area, completely avoid it, don't come anywhere near it, don't even think about coming to it," said Yaroslovsky. "Stay the heck out of here."
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Categories: Social Media