Can Twitter influence press behavior?

By Steve Outing

Lately, NYU journalism professor and Pressthink blogger Jay Rosen has been urging his Twitter followers (more than 1,600 of them) to point out examples of reporters “growing a spine” when it comes to pointing out and documenting untruths by the McCain presidential campaign.

He’s asking Twitter users to include #spinewatch in their tweets along with links to such coverage. Here are a couple examples of such stories from Rosen: McCain on the spot as Palin defends earmarks requestsWheels come off Straight Talk Express?

Lots of journalists follow Rosen, and if those people take his advice, their Twitter followers will see their #spinewatch posts, too. The meme will spread.

Do you think this could have an impact? Could it actually influence reporters to tread less lightly on campaign lies and aggressively report them?

Absolutely, I believe it can.

Online social communities built around niches can be quite effective in forcing changes. While Twitter isn’t a niche social service, the networks that build up around individuals tend to be niches; ergo, Rosen’s followers includes hundreds of reporters, editors, academics, and the media “elite.” When that group gets to talking amongst themselves about important issues, social change within the group is possible.

This power of niche online communities was first demonstrated to me 17 years ago (or thereabouts), when I was graphics editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. I used Compuserve, the old proprietary online service, and there was a “forum” on it just for newspaper graphics folks. it’s so long ago that I can’t remember the specific issue, but I was annoyed by a policy of the Associated Press graphics department, which fed us syndicated infographics. I griped about it and a discussion with my co-horts around the U.S. ensued, with others sharing my complaint.

It wasn’t long before the director of AP Graphics chimed in and agreed to change the policy, based on our online group gripe session.

That was my introduction to the power of online community. I think that it can be demonstrated here on a much larger issue with Rosen’s #spinewatch initiative.

And it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks so…

(Addendum: Hmmm. I’m already thinking I may have to reconsider my optimism for this specific attempt at using social media for influence. It may still work, but already some folks with Twitter accounts who take issue with the goal of #spinewatch are starting to use the tag to post disinformation and disrupt the intent of the effort. You might call these people political spammers, since they invade channels with unwanted information.)

Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!