As a platform, Twitter has become a tremendously useful tool for disseminating information, sometimes being essential in circumventing restrictions on free speech. Its democratic nature makes it possible for any piece of information to be distributed. And as Twitter is used more and more as a news source, it is also becoming the go-to source for information on breaking news. The first news of Osama bin Laden's death, to give a recent example, was first posted on Twitter.
What can be a problem is that Twitter does not have a mechanism to verify the veracity of the information transmitted on it. There is no editorial framework, which makes it possible for any information - or disinformation - to take off and become a trend.
For this reason, AdAge's Simon Dumenco suggested that Twitter create a way to direct its users to most reliable sources of information. In his view, a community of some kind could be tasked with evaluating sources according to their importance, which would make it easier for users to identify trustworthy information.
Poynter's Latoya Peterson does not share Dumenco's views on what direction Twitter should be developed. She argued against the practice of using human intermediaries to choose reliable sources, as she saw it as an old-media way of managing a new-media platform. Peterson pointed out that as a platform, Twitter is used for several reasons: many use it for connections and entertainment, and are probably not interested in trustworthiness primarily. Moreover, the idea of moderating a platform seems problematic to Peterson: for example, did the first on-location information from the Arab uprisings come from "reliable sources," she asked.
Peterson quoted Derrick Ashongh, host of Al Jazeera's recently launched social media show The Stream, as saying that the traditional media follows a top-down model, in which a group of people decide what is relevant news. With free dissemination of information, it is now possible for just about anyone to choose and relay information - to curate.
Twitter can be an immensely useful tool, and people are still finding new functions for it. The trend of curating news based on Twitter content - exemplified by the recent launch of Storify to the public - is a good example of this. On its own, Twitter is only an unrestricted storehouse for information, but its nature is also one of its main assets.
The information on Twitter is undoubtedly best used when someone handpicks the most useful and reliable material. This, naturally, requires a high level of media literacy. But having such a system integrated into Twitter might undermine "less-trustworthy" sources' ability to get their voices heard. Curating is a good example of how vetting information on Twitter can be done outside the platform, instead of interfering with its intrinsic democratic nature.