A Call For Journalists To Stop Tweeting09:47
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The Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)
The Twitter app icon on a mobile phone in Philadelphia. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Twitter is ruining American journalism, says New York Times opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo. He wants people in the profession to do more lurking on the social media site and less posting.

Manjoo (@fmanjoo) tells Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson that Twitter is ruining journalism because reporters tend to use the social media platform as an assignment desk.

"If something is big on Twitter, we put it on cable news, we put it in the paper, we put it everywhere else," he says. "I don't think Twitter is sort of a reflection of the real world.

Manjoo also argues that Twitter has become sort of a "clubhouse" for journalists. He says he noticed that writing clever tweets was distracting from his actual job as a journalist.

"My job is to write columns, and I would write three words and then check Twitter and write three words and check Twitter," Manjoo says. "And now that I don't have that compulsion anymore, I mean, I'm sort of better in all parts of life, even at my job."

Interview Highlights

On the problematic ways in which journalists use Twitter

"One is just kind of ruining the image of journalists because there are a lot of reporters on Twitter who spend their lives on Twitter, and we tend to treat it a little bit like a clubhouse. People just kind of offer their takes, their opinions on the news. And because tweets are short and they don't offer a lot of room for nuance and because people are just sort of being reflexive, the interface drives us to I think not really consider what we're typing and how it looks and things can easily be taken out of context. So one is sort of the image of reporters.

"Two though, I think perhaps more important, is that we in the press even though we may not like to admit it, we tend to use Twitter as kind of an assignment desk. If something is big on Twitter, we put it on cable news, we put it in the paper, we put it everywhere else. And I don't know, I mean I don't think Twitter is sort of a reflection of the real world. And the problem is that we are all sort of stuck in it. We spent a lot of time there, and then we kind of take it as the real world and kind of look at what's happening on Twitter and make assumptions about what's happening in the rest of the world."

"The impressions that you hear on Twitter are motivated for all of these reasons, and you're not getting sort of the slice of the American public or what the man or woman on the street thinks."

Farhad Manjoo

On how journalists tend to use Twitter as a replacement for reporting 

"I think it it may have worked well that way at one point, but what has happened is that ... Twitter has become a magnet for activists, for marketers, for partisans of all kinds, for politicians obviously, and so the impressions that you hear on Twitter are motivated for all of these reasons, and you're not getting sort of the slice of the American public or what the man or woman on the street thinks. You're you're getting kind of a motivated view, and it's difficult in the rush of tweets to figure out why someone is tweeting that way. Twitter's interface doesn't make it clear who these people are. You know sometimes, many times tweets may become popular because they've been pushed up by bots, because they've gone sort of viral, because of some Twitter mechanics. We don't know. It's really hard to tell on Twitter why something is trending and whether it's trending for authentic reasons or for completely made-up reasons."

On how Twitter can become like a game 

"To me that is I think the worst thing about Twitter, and I say this as someone who loves that. I mean, I really have spent a lot of my life on Twitter during presidential debates, during all kinds of news events, where it became sort of a game, and you know, it's fun if you're in the news and you like the news and you follow the news. But I think that because it is a kind of a game where everyone's kind of competing to have the pithiest take on a thing, it affects our thinking. I noticed that I was thinking in Twitter quips, and that's not really that productive unless, you know, if you're not aiming to be just a Twitter star and you're trying to produce good journalism in the world or try to affect the world in some larger way, just thinking in Twitter quips I think is not good for you."

On some of his own bad moments on Twitter

"I feel like every day is a bad moment on Twitter. Yeah I mean, I remember so many times. There is that incident with that woman Justine Sacco whose tweet about going to South Africa was sort of taken out of context. She made a joke. Everyone kind of jumped on her about the implicit racism in her joke, although I think people didn't get the context. She was on a plane going to South Africa. Everyone sort of pounced on it. I was one of them. There are many times where I've retweeted something that turned out to be not quite true. There are many times where I've had a very popular take on something that I later on wish I'd reconsidered. And it's just I think it's kind of unavoidable because to be good on Twitter, you have to be authentic. But sometimes authenticity doesn't work with the kind of higher calling of journalism to be thoughtful and nuanced and to a report and to just kind of get a better and more comprehensive picture of the world."

"I think that because it is a kind of a game where everyone's kind of competing to have the pithiest take on a thing, it affects our thinking."

Farhad Manjoo

On how President Trump's use of Twitter influences journalists

"I think he has something to do with it, but I would imagine that if he stops tweeting, nothing about the rest of how journalism works with regard to Twitter would change. I mean, people in the news were using Twitter more or less this way three, four years ago before Trump came on the scene. ... He has put this, you know, the seal of approval on it, and it does make it justifiable for reporters, especially political reporters to be on there because the tweets and the responses to the tweets are the story now, and the way that other politicians respond to Trump happens [on Twitter], I mean everything happens on Twitter. I mean, every political story now is just, 'This is what happened on Twitter today.' "

On if it's realistic to urge journalists not to use Twitter as much

"I think it's realistic, but I think it's difficult. I mean, my path away from Twitter has been difficult and on and off because it really is a big part of the news, and if you're a news reporter or just tied to the daily news cycle, you can't really ignore it. The way I use it now is I check it several times a day. I mean before I used to check it like several times a minute. It's a huge change, and I use an app called Nuzzel, which sort of creates like a kind of digest of what has happened on Twitter in the last few hours that I can kind of keep tabs on it that way. And the other thing I do is I'm just much more deliberate about what I post. Like I type out a lot of tweets and then I don't post them like I just sort of save them to drafts. ... It's like Nicorette gum, like it sort of satisfies the urge to tweet, but I don't actually post and like change the world in any way."

On the criticism of his argument 

"I think Twitter is important in the business of journalism, and if you don't work at The New York Times, it's much harder to decide not to tweet or to pull away from Twitter. I definitely recognize there's this sort of a position of privilege associated with my take."


Jill Ryan produced and edited this interview with Todd Mundt. Samantha Raphelson adapted it for the web. 

This segment aired on February 5, 2019.

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Jeremy Hobson Twitter Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.

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