As It Happens: Live Tweets

Posted: March 2, 2011 by braillebone in #7 Ethics

The same as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, breaking news is in the eye of the live-tweeting reporter – and his or her followers.

Twitter has changed the traditional process of journalism significantly, which is exemplified by The Globe and Mail’s use of the quick and convenient social media tool during the G20 Summit in Toronto last summer.

Lisan Jutras, a reporter covering the summit, was following a peaceful protest on Queen Street West and watched as people were detained one by one during a downpour without cover. Updating the Globe and Mail’s website live via her cell phone allowed for press coverage that would have otherwise been prohibited, but did it allow for fair coverage?

I recall following the live tweet updates to the site and feeling appalled at the behaviour of the police and their detaining and arresting of peaceful protesters, but I also recall trying my best to think critically of the situation. I knew Toronto had hiked up their security forces by importing several thousand police officers from other provinces, and I wondered how they would possibly organize them and maintain efficient communication.

Once that occurred to me, I began to look at the situation less subjectively.

I agreed with Jutras; it seemed excessive to hold and charge bystanders and passersby with conspiracy to commit public mischief. But naturally, a live, un-analyzed, raw situation can often only appear one way. There is no context to work with to make sense of the issue. Granted, there isn’t always a sound reason for an unfavourable situation. However, this is one case where Twitter provided a platform for ridicule, fueled by its 140 character allowance.

After speaking with a friend from the Grand Falls, N.B. RCMP who worked at the summit, I gathered I was on the right track. He said Toronto police were trying their best to be proactive to prevent chaos in the streets, and like many critics, suggested the summit should not have been held in such a large centre.

A live feed like the one I’m referring to is wonderful in my opinion, because it informs immediately. Ethically, however, this kind of journalism has potential for influencing public opinion in an abbreviated manner that leaves the issue out of context.

In regards to how I would have handled the reigns of the Globe and Mail – to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have done much differently because of the demands of 24 hour news. If a reporter is in the field with an opportunity to communicate an experience that would not likely be communicated otherwise, he or she should do so; they have an obligation to the community. But they also have an obligation to provide complete and comprehensive information, which isn’t likely in a situation like the detainment of citizens on Queen Street West.

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