Journalist Nic Christensen (who, it must be said, worked hard to engage in open and genuine dialogue on Twitter in the wake of publication) seemed to rely on nothing more than a few anecdotal gut-feeling opinions of Twitter’s ideological leanings - one his own and two from others. The conclusion was built upon a “perception” based on how things “seemed” and the only hard data presented were part of a cursory look at one day’s trending topics, which were bizarrely deemed to be proof of Twitter’s left-leaning focus. Of course, if someone tweets about #mardigas or “International Woman’s Day” then they must obviously be a Leftist. QED, mofos.
The justification for the original article (and a follow-up article the next week) was that “being aware of the overall political leanings of the platform would seem wise ... Just as we debate the perceived biases of media organisations such as Fairfax Media or News Limited (publisher of The Australian), so too should we examine more open platforms such as talk-back radio (often viewed as right-leaning) and -- why not? -- also Twitter.”
Okay, but ...
*sigh, deep breath*
Twitter is a communication technology (or platform) Fairfax and News Ltd. are organisations that communicate using newspaper and Internet website platforms. One of these things is not like the other. And while the phrase “talk-back radio” sounds like a platform rather than an organisation, talk-back radio is programs produced by organisations, communicated to an audience via the technology of radio. Phone calls don’t just appear on air, free of editorial decision-making.
And here’s where the wheels really fell off The Oz’s already paper-thin argument. How can we have a decent debate about journalism, technology and bias if we can’t even use consistent and accurate terminology? A communication technology or platform, presented without limitation to the general public for free, open and democratic use (read: Twitter) cannot in and of itself be biased. If 90% of Twitter users are smug commie hipsters then that means nothing more than that 90% of people are smug commie hipsters. Twitter, through the tweets of those smug commie hipsters, does not itself become a smug commie hipster.
A major media organisation, on the other hand, can very much be biased. The bias can be slight or extreme, driven explicitly or implicitly within the organisation, and is communicated to the organisation’s audience via a communication platform. The Kings Tribune’s flagrant and disgusting pro-Steve Fielding bias, for example, does not make the communication technologies of magazine and Internet more family-friendly.
Coming back to the social media brainfart service, if there’s bias to be found we must look to each of the individual users. A Twitter feed is a publication belonging to an individual or an organisation, and those humans can be (and probably are) biased to some extent - it takes no effort at all to find terrible, searing, sweary, ranty, irrational, abusive examples of bias on Twitter everywhere you look. And you know what? It’s entirely possible that there are more left-leaning Twitter users than there are conservative. But, so what? If this pointless search for a technologically-based bias that cannot exist is really to “help us to better understand [Twitter] users, the wider medium and how we as journalists should best engage it,” then shouldn’t someone just show these journalists how to click the ‘unfollow’ button?
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Scott Bridges is a teacher, hipster, writer, blogger, traveller and beardist.