The social media empowers every user with ‘expertise’!

How would you describe twitter vis-a-vis TV in less than 140 characters? A top official at the micro blogging site’s headquarters quips: “Twitter has become the world’s digital water cooler, where conversations about TV happen in real time”. The upbeat mood comes close on the heels of its exclusive agreement with a global information measurement entity. The Nielsen Twitter TV Rating in the US is being billed as a metric for social TV audience measurement.

The new deal has seen the fierce debate over whether social media is a threat to mainstream media take an interesting turn. TV channels in India saw this coming. This is why every media organisation has its official generic twitter account, with separate ones for flagship shows and star anchors. This is why almost every prime time show scrolls live tweets. This is why most popular anchors tweet programming notes — topics, timings and even reminders about repeat telecast. Not to mention retweets of positive feedback!

This is why reporters on the field are increasingly tweeting breaking news before calling their news desks at the headquarters. And also tweeting links to their exploits for a bigger audience. (A few big news corporations in the West have advised their journalists to file before they tweet)

I wouldn’t be surprised if HR departments of media companies begin to weave in a column on stories broken before twitter in annual appraisal forms! This is why (and this is my favourite part!) many senior journalists already have, or will one day notch up more followers on twitter than their actual readers or viewers.

You just cannot wish this platform away. As more sophisticated mobile phones with apps and tablets hit the market, TV will soon be watched less on TV and more on hand-held devices!

Here lies the excitement of instant and wider feedback. Here also lies the risk of doctored responses. We have all heard of fake profiles. I have also heard of outfits that ‘sell’ followers. As long as it’s just a status symbol to have a certain number of followers, there is no damage done.

But what if you start relying on data generated by a system that has cracks? To me, that’s a clear and future danger. That’s a question of credibility that will need to be analysed and answered.

Hold on, there’s more. The mainstream media may be often accused of crossing the constitutional LoC and conducting its own trial in sensational cases that it reports. Hard core critics would go a step further and say it is not just a media trial, but sentencing and execution too!

What about the social media? Given society’s national pastime of jumping to conclusions, public figures need to develop thick skin to survive. So, a filmmaker or actor would need to grin and bear tweets that proclaim “This movie is crap. Not worth even the popcorn” in the first 10 minutes! It’s an inevitable fallout of a system that empowers every user with expertise. That said, at the time of writing this column, I haven’t come across too many comments on the doomsday prediction. Perhaps, people are more interested in the Kingfisher calendar than the Mayan calendar!

Now did I say ‘public figures’? What about the common man? Just recently, a terrible car accident on Chennai’s East Coast Road involving a few college girls (one of them died) triggered a spate of insensitive tweets. Some concluded that it was a case of drunken driving, much before even the medical reports were out.

How did these unconnected souls know if the victims had a swig or not? Even assuming they did, how did they come to the conclusion that they were driving under the influence of alcohol? The speed of twitter, perhaps, has no leeway for a thought for the girls’ families. A few months ago, when a bus fell off the Gemini flyover in Chennai, the news and first pictures were out on twitter. Bravo!

But, there were those who condemned the driver, concluding that he was talking on the mobile phone when the vehicle toppled over. A section of the mainstream media, too, blindly followed the angle. Later, investigation of the driver’s mobile phone call logs revealed that he wasn’t talking at the time of the accident. But who cares? This is free speech and time is ticking for Section 66-A of the IT Act!