Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

Twitter, Building Trust, Ferguson, and Staying Calm

Twitter, Building Trust, Ferguson, and Staying Calm

By Dennis D. McDonald

As Ferguson related tweets started rolling in last night I asked myself, “Which of these can I trust?” So I tweeted out, “How can I tell the difference between real info and info reaching me because source is better at using Twitter?” Ari Herzog (@ariherzog) tweeted back, “Either you verify with fact checking; or you trust the second source.” To this my response was, “wish it were that easy.”

The issue is a real one. Twitter has evolved into a tool that anyone can use to promote a cause, a viewpoint, or a brand. The days when social media could be viewed optimistically primarily as vehicles for communicating with members of trusted communities have been supplemented by their additional usage to monitor brand awareness and sentiment, to monitor the spread of disease, and to monitor the creation or at least shaping of news.

In the old days some called some of this the spreading of “propaganda.” Maybe a better description is that it’s just a lot easier now to spread multiple version of the truth very quickly.

Of course we have good uses of social media such as communication during disasters situations and the “Arab Spring.” Many of us also rely on sources such as Twitter as “early warning” systems for importent events. But as systems such as Twitter also become accepted channels for winning “hearts and minds” it does emphasize the need for calm and deliberation when faced with streams of information from people who might have “axes to grind.”

Increasingly my tendency is to ignore or at least treat with great skepticism early tweets and retweets from people I don’t know that are referring to controversial events or topics. The same goes for any brand related or sponsored tweet or retweet. Even though I’m following only 2,091 accounts on Twitter the majority of theseI don’t really know personally but have elected to follow mostly for topical reasons.

The upside of this — following many more Twitter accounts than I actually know or trust — is that I am constantly exposed to ideas, viewpoints, and topics I might not be exposed to otherwise. That’s good.

The downside, as suggested above, is that it can be difficult to know when I’m being deliberately “played” by someone who knows how quickly short bursts of questionable or hard to verify information can reverberate through the “Twitterverse.”

So I wait to make judgement and am increasingly selective about how much credence to place on early tweets about controversial events from people (or entities) I don’t really know. Just as I resist being “driven” to a sales oriented vendor by advertising posing as legitimate engagement, so too do I resist having my political viewpoint “driven” in one direction or another.

I know, for example, that when I receive an email on a hot button political issue – no matter which “side” it comes from — I’m being “driven” to a fundraising appeal. Hopefully I’ll be able to make the same type of assessment of tweets promoting one interpretation or the other of fast breaking news, but that takes time.

Copyright © 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald

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