Twitter calls itself a “real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.” That network is defined by its personalization: The person who assembles her feed is the person who reads it. This is usually a benefit. Last Friday it became a distraction.
My unfiltered Twitter feed was basically unusable as an information source — a repetition of facts shared space with anger, and grief, and commentary, and still more of the same facts. Instead, I relied on filters, and the individual streams of people who are extremely talented at culling what’s important and cutting out the repetition.
Those who load Twitter feeds with news organizations, journalists, and news junkies encounter a – how else to put it but in Twitterspeak? – #firstworldproblem. Jay Rosen, from New York University’s school of journalism has described it well: “7 out of 10 posts in my incoming Twitter feed are about the same story.” And when that kind of critical mass is reached, no matter if they’re trivial (Felix Baumgartner’s space jump), national (presidential election night) or tragic (last week), these moments have a particular rhythm.
Broadly speaking, it goes like so:
1 New facts are reported and quickly repeated.
2 Reactions are added.
3 Commentary is layered on.
4 Those original facts are amended, corrected, or invalidated.
5 Forcefully folksy explainers and lists of “The [Insert Number Here] Facts You Need to Know” are published.
6 Conventional wisdom is formed so that it can be…
7 Ideologically challenged, wonkishly debunked, and expertly analyzed.