Please Don’t ReTweet This

by Joshua Foust on 8/21/2009 · 4 comments

Following up on this, I wrote a snap assessment of the mixed bag Twitter was during the 2009 Afghan elections for the Columbia Journalism Review. Snippet:

As a result, my Twitter feeds during Election Day had an incredible noise-to-signal ratio—by an informal calculation, 90 percent of the tweets filling my computer screen were just retweets of something I had already seen (that is, other users were reposting, with credit, someone else’s tweets) from those same three sources. It got so bad that, by mid-morning, I had to stop reading Twitter—everything became a blur of identical tweets from the same place (mostly Pajhwok, which did excellent work). I thought I knew how to “tune” Twitter so that I could hyper-efficiently barrel through inhuman amounts of information. What I learned on Thursday was that Twitter only becomes a game-changing tool when there are a lot of people contributing to it.

That’s not to say Twitter is an invalid tool for research, or for monitoring elections. But it is just that, a tool, and it still has a long way to go for it to be a reliable source of useful news and information.

Comments are always welcome.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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YM August 21, 2009 at 1:56 pm

Honestly, I’m not sure if Twitter is ever a “game changing tool.” It seems like, most of the time, it is almost impossible to tell who the tweets are coming from and if they are representing true data. As was mentioned during the time, the Iranian protests were mostly spread through SMS messaging, etc… Also, considering the advice of many to change their “Twitter location” to Iran in order to somehow divert the Iranian authorities just proves that until we have some sort of filtering mechanism, it is almost impossible to gather reliable data. Even if 1,000 Twitter users tweet the same information, considering most don’t have the ability to verify location and identity, the data collected should always be scrutinized heavily.

Qifa Nabki August 21, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I agree.

Twitter is a mixed bag, particularly as an election tool, where there can occasionally be disastrous consequences.

AJK August 22, 2009 at 12:38 pm

just so we’re all aware, that is a satirical article… August 21, 2009 at 6:03 pm

If the mainstream media can’t always get it right with all the space/time, they’re given, Twitter has to be seen as a pretty limited tool.

If you think of reality as a mosaic, Twitter will be able to fill in some of the individual tiles, but it would be hard to get a decent picture with such small tiles.

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