A Twitter-Fueled Media Gets Tested Amidst Impeachment Inquiry

By Mary Fracchia
The Razorback Reporter

The United States is facing the potential that a third president could be impeached, but this would be the first in the era of social media.

The co-founder and editor-at-large for Vox Media told a UA audience that social media distort views of events.

“[Twitter] warps our perception really bad,” Ezra Klein said in his October presentation as part of the UA student-sponsored Distinguished Lecture Series. “I’ve moved much more towards reading books in the past couple of years because I think it helps move upstream and think about things with more scale, and look away from the news, which feels to me like it’s gotten Twitter-fied.”

Klein referenced the Covington Catholic High School situation that arose in January between a group of high school students and a Native American man, saying it was “objectively a story that didn’t matter.”

“I did not care which side of that story you came down on, I just don’t care,” Klein said. “It just doesn’t matter, like nobody even got hurt. In D.C. that day, people were murdered. In D.C. that day, people were assaulted. In D.C. that day, women were raped and the whole country was obsessed with this Covington thing and so social media really values conflict that keys into peoples’ identity.”

Journalists often find news tips on Twitter. In many cases, those tips might not actually be news, Klein said, and reporting on what they think people care about, rather than what actually constitutes news.

“Twitter is driving too much of our coverage, and so we’re covering the wrong things, and we’re covering things that even if we cover them well, they’re negative,” he said.

His experience has enabled him to “translate Washington” for a collegiate audience, Sydney Nichols, a UA student and Marketing Co-Director for the Distinguished Lectures Advisory Committee, said in introducing Klein.

As he spoke to UA students about Washington and the media – including social media’s role in politics as the Impeachment case against President Donald Trump unfolds – Klein said:

“I think there is a lot of substitution scrolling through Twitter for reading even the stories linked on Twitter, and headlines are often a very bad guide to stories.”

Before founding Vox, Klein worked as a columnist and editor for the Washington Post, a policy analyst at MSNBC and a contributor for the online news service, Bloomberg.

Klein told the UA audience that the process of impeachment is going to be shaped by “a lot of non-news news events,” meaning that people are going to make news of things that are not.

“You’re getting very different stories on Fox News and MSNBC. In a way that was not true during Nixon,” Klein said of congressional hearings on the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “There was no Fox News for Nixon.”

Social media platforms such as Twitter allow users to view short paragraphs of information in seconds, rather than reading or watching a full news story from a media outlet. However, this new trend could be detrimental to journalists who work to report the news fully.

Klein referred to Twitter as a “substitution” for the news, and said that the headlines often can be a bad guide to the articles.

The audience is not necessarily in the wrong, Klein said, but rather the journalists, who are on Twitter most of the time.

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Mary Fracchia

Mary Fracchia is a fourth year student at the UofA studying journalism with a focus on sports and editorial news. She is a member of the Lemke Digital Media Lab, where she writes stories focusing on the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences. Fracchia aspires to be a sideline reporter for college football after her graduation in May.

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