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When will Twitter jump the shark?


Gadgets on the go

Adam Turner is an award-winning Australian freelance technology journalist with a passion for gadgets and the "digital lounge room".

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Do fake Twitter followers bring more real followers?

Do fake Twitter followers bring more real followers? Photo: Slate illustration by Natalie Matthews. Logo courtesy Twitter.

Twitter's daily storm in a teacup feeds our news porn addiction.

People are quick to label Twitter as "good" or "bad" but it's neither -- it's simply a tool which brings out the best and the worst in us. It's the latest in a long line of communication methods which have change the way we interact with the world, for better and for worse.

Twitter is certainly a powerful tool for quickly disseminating information around the globe. But when it comes to the concept of "news", I'd say Twitter has done more harm than good. It's driven the concept of a 24-hour news cycle to new extremes, turning the news into sensationalist entertainment which could best be classified as "news porn" -- whether it's Apple versus Android or Abbott versus Gillard.

Amanda Dunn's opinion piece on the weekend -- Right on skew: news takes a tumble in the Twitter hole -- summed up how I've been feeling for a while and I'm sure I'm not alone. Every wild rumour, ill-considered opinion or off-the-cuff comment on Twitter triggers a new wave of outrage which spills into the mainstream media and creates a self-sustaining storm in a teacup. I've had my fair share of Twitter controversy and faced the consequences. I'm not trying to shirk responsibility for my actions by blaming Twitter. I just think that the Twitterati's appetite for outrage, and the mainstream media's habit of lapping it up, has reached the point where it's distorting public debate.

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds, I'd say trivial Twitter controversies are driving the mainstream headlines of the day -- controversies declared newsworthy by journalists scrambling to feed the hungry beast with a diet of newstainment. Such tactics might boost page impressions but they do little to raise the level of debate or redeem the mainstream media in the eyes of those who feel it has lost its way.

It's easy to blame the mainstream media for the rise of newstainment but, judging by the comments on news stories and the tone of Twitter debate, I'd say many readers are willingly along for the ride. The rise of adversarial politics has infected every level of public debate, with people more interested in attacking their opponents than addressing the issues.

We bicker like children on Twitter just as our politicians bicker like children in parliament and it's hard to say which is following the example of the other. Trolling and news porn seem to go hand in hand, with Twitter providing the perfect outlet.

Of course for every spiteful troll you'll find a self-righteous Informed Citizen 2.0 who speaks of the democratisation of information but is just as much a news porn addict -- driving the Twitter outrage machine while claiming the moral high ground. By feeding Twitter's outrage overload, under the guise of democratic participation, they're actually part of the problem. Actually they're a bigger part of the problem than the trolls, because self-righteous outrage junkies can't even see that they're part of the problem.

I'm not saying that people shouldn't discuss politics on Twitter or their favourite brand of smartphone, I'm just saying that we need more informed debate and less people playing Outrage of the Day. Outrage junkies actually damage democracy because the really important issues are lost in the noise when you turn every little issue into a big deal.

Australia's nine-month election campaign will provide Twitter with the perfect fodder to feed news porn addicts. As the outrage machine goes into overdrive, it could be the last straw for many people who were already contemplating turning their back on Twitter or at least filtering out newstainment and the outrage junkies. 

Will Twitter ever jump the shark? Not until people lose their taste for newstainment and childish bickering. History would suggest that outrage junkies will only tire of Twitter when they find an even more effective way to feed their news porn addiction.

What do you think? Could Twitter jump the shark as we tire of news porn and 24-hour controversy?

12 comments so far

  • I find that the worst part of Twitter - apart from the trolls - is that someone with a large number of followers can post something 'outrageous' and pose it as a fact, even though it hasn't been verified. For example, if somebody is at a protest and police use pepper-spray, this might be posted as "POLICE HAVE PEPPER SPRAYED THE CROWD AT A PEACEFUL PROTEST" (which may be the case..).. but eventually this turns into "OMG POLICE HAVE PEPPER SPRAYED A DISABLED 90 YEAR OLD MAN AND A PUPPY". It's like a nerdy online version of Chinese whispers sometimes.
    That, and sometimes it's like reading the ridiculous ramblings scrawled on a toilet wall.

    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 9:45AM
    • My opinion is my fact. Don't like it don't follow typical left wing silence any dissent approach from a pudgy mid 40's professor of Centrelink.

      Date and time
      February 05, 2013, 2:45AM
  • Whilst 'jumping the shark' talks to a low point, or a point that marks significant decline - it is generally attributed to an action or controlled catalyst, hence the desperate stunt of 'jumping the shark'. Twitter, as a platform, continues to be more relevant. When it comes to news, the information is near real time and allows alternative points of views that make conventional news sources very narrow. Twitter is enhancing its platform in small ways constantly and with the release of tools like the Vine short video sharing app, they are enhancing their utility. So who is really Jumping the Shark? Twitter, being a curated list of people you have decided to follow, merely serves as a reflection of yourself and the people you connect to. So, if we are talking declines, the shark having being jumped, so to speak...then it might be time to unfollow some of the culprit connections?

    Julian W
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 10:59AM
    • I don't think we are that evolved. Your closing line 'History would suggest....' sums it up - only an app that is more frenzied (and ironically easier to filter & understand) than Twitter itself will kill it off.

      I do think though that one day - a very long time from now - people will just get bored and find something else to do.

      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 11:05AM
      • The author seems totally oblivious to the ironies (let's not say hypocrisy) abounding in this article.

        A journo expressing outrage about people on Twitter expressing outrage? Informed citizens "a bigger part of the problem" than trolls, because um, what? They "don't know they are part of the problem"? But doesn't the author realise he and other journos are also part of the problem?

        Sorry mate, but citizen journalism is here to stay, largely because the mainstream media has lost so much credibility by toadying up to power. In an ideal world we wouldn't need to argue about the news because we could believe what we read. But tell that to Aussie journo Julian Assange, abandoned by his government for telling the truth!

        And look, here I am wasting time on a nonsense article the editor probably OKed just to get hits and bring in advertisers. Irony overload. Outta here...

        Gold Coast
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 11:33AM
        • With respect I think its the main stream media that has jumped the shark. Twitter therefore is filling a void that MSM no longer pursues.

          Date and time
          February 04, 2013, 3:40PM
          • Maybe mainstream media, like The Age, should stop publishing "news" stories where the majority of the content is rehashing tweets and then turn around and bash Twitter as destroying the media.
            Get back to actual journalism, and leave Twitter to be what it is; a real time platform for sharing information (not necessarily always actual "news", despite what The Age might sometimes think) that relies on users to curate and filter the quality and quantity of what they digest from their own feed.

            Date and time
            February 04, 2013, 4:10PM
            • Twitter does become very partisan however the MSM has become increasingly partisan too. Even the ABC has fallen into the trap of loading headlines and articles. At least on twitter people have an opportunity to reply to partisan reporting.

              BTW, the 'outrage' metaphor is simply a means of demeaning the opinions of a person's political opposition. The right in particular deflect criticism in this fashion.

              Date and time
              February 04, 2013, 4:17PM
              • have recently ditched twitter and a number of friends have as well.


                because it has shifted from interaction and interesting stuff to become a place full of hate, outrage and bullying.

                it really used to be a positive and interesting place but now it is somewhere where 30+yr olds go to bully each other like primary school kids.

                Date and time
                February 04, 2013, 6:08PM
                • Twitter reached that point in 2011.

                  Mr Bungle
                  Under My Bridge
                  Date and time
                  February 04, 2013, 7:11PM

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