The media today: Twitter decides what is newsworthy

Image: AP

This week, following an incendiary tweet by President Trump toward North Korea, Twitter is making an update to its terms of service. The social media company will now consider newsworthiness alongside its other criteria in determining whether to allow speech on its platform.

When, on Saturday, Trump tweeted what North Korea’s foreign minister viewed as a “declaration of war,” commentators wondered whether threats of violence—which might get anyone else kicked off of Twitter—were enough to get the President himself suspended.

“This has long been an internal policy,” Twitter said in its statement on the matter, but newsworthiness has not been part of the public-facing terms. Questions have been raised since the campaign about whether Trump’s sometimes impulsive use of Twitter should be curbed. While some worry that Twitter gives the president too direct of a platform to speak off the cuff, others are concerned about the power of tech companies to censor speech at will.

By deciding what is newsworthy, Twitter will effectively be making editorial decisions, moving its platform even further into the role of a media company. A recent release from Pew shows that two thirds of Americans get at least some news from social media. And the proportion of Twitter users who get news from Twitter is now 75 percent, up 15 percentage points from last year. By comparison, 68 percent of Facebook users get news there.

As issues swirl around free speech on platforms owned by private companies, Twitter seems to be cultivating its reputation as a purveyor of news. Twitter Moments, released a year ago, provides news stories made up of curated tweets. Some news organizations, including Bloomberg and Cheddar, and mostly recently BuzzFeed, are using the platform for video news broadcasts.

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Other notable stories

  • “This is like in war: You work with what you have,” says an emergency-room director in Puerto Rico to The New York Times.
  • Attorney General Jeff Sessions weighed in on the campus speech debate at Georgetown Law yesterday, saying that “freedom of thought and speech on the American campus are under attack… [The university] is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogeneous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
  • The idea that Sessions is a free-speech cheerleader is “absurd,” says Margaret Sullivan: “Whatever solid points Sessions made were thoroughly obscured by the billowing clouds of hypocrisy.”
  • In other free-speech news, the Knight Institute at Columbia announced an essay series on contemporary controversies around the First Amendment. The first essay, by Tim Wu, asks, “Is the First Amendment Obsolete?” Wu argues that “it is no longer speech itself that is scarce, but the attention of listeners.”
  • We’ve all heard about Pizzagate, but that’s not the only real-world impact fake news had. At The New York Times Magazine, “How Fake News Turned a Small Town Upside-Down,” tells how reports of a sex crime affected Twin Falls, Idaho.
  • A beautiful profile of journalist and Columbia J-School alum Kim Wall (who was allegedly murdered in Denmark in August) by her “soul sister,” Sonia Paul.

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Nausicaa Renner is editor of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism’s vertical at Columbia Journalism Review. She tweets at @nausjcaa.