Twitter Is The Best Place For News — Which Can Be The Worst Thing In The World

Breaking news and the social web, all in one day.

Earlier this afternoon, I wrote a long post about Facebook’s coverage of Ferguson, which included the handwringing from many members of the media over Facebook’s algorithm filtering hard news coverage of the protests. It also included a a good bit of praise from the same crowd (myself, included) as to the raw, unfiltered, and ceaseless coverage of all developments out of Ferguson. The consensus from the media crowd: Twitter is the best place for raw breaking news.

Are you sure you want raw breaking news?

Just an hour ago a very disturbing video surfaced, allegedly showing American journalist James Foley being brutally beheaded. Naturally, the link to the video as well as extremely disturbing and graphic photos began to appear on Twitter. In the past year, Twitter has updated to allow in-stream image and video previews, meaning many users didn’t have any warning before seeing the graphic scene.

Naturally, the reaction was of horror and disgust, as well as justified criticism of posting the images at all:

Journalism ethics apply to Twitter, too. If you wouldn't show the video on your newscast or print it in your paper, don't do it online.

— Andrew M. Seaman (@andrewmseaman)

Of course, nobody here is even remotely wrong! Instead, what this illustrates is the media’s fraught relationship with Twitter. We live on it. It’s essential to our work and we praise its speed and ability to deliver unfiltered news. On the other hand: we live on it; it’s essential to our work; and it delivers unfiltered news.

What makes Twitter great for news makes it, at times, a horrible place; Facebook, meanwhile, would never do that to you. A quick trip to my Facebook feed shows one quick post about the beheading via Gawker (it was gone after one refresh) — the rest is ice buckets and viral news, courtesy of the algorithm.

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Charlie Warzel is a senior writer for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. Warzel reports on and writes about the intersection of tech and culture.
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