Knight Center
Knight Center


New Twitter guidelines, recent censorship draw criticism from journalists

Recent changes to Twitter’s application programming interface (API) rattled some critics concerned about how journalists will use the popular social media platform to cover news in the future, according to Alfred Hermida on his blog Beyond the recent API announcement, Twitter has seen a progression of censorship as the company matures that may threaten its credibility as a news source.

The new Twitter guidelines have prompted questions about how, or whether, journalists will be able to aggregate various tweets, combining them with non-Twitter content.

In order to “deliver a consistent Twitter experience,” Twitter now requires all posted tweets to include a linked @username and Twitter actions, like Re-tweet, reply, etc. Along with new display guidelines, Twitter requires all applications to be certified by the company before they are released. Twitter announced that failure to comply with these guidelines could result in a revocation of the application's access to tweeted content.

“The restrictions on mixing tweets in with other material could hamstring news outlets," Hermida wrote on his blog. "The practice of live blogging, pulling together material from reporters, news agencies and social media, has become common on news websites,” he said, citing Storify and other tools journalists use to curate social media. “The stricter guidelines on the use of tweets go against the trend towards more inclusive, open and networked forms of journalism.”

The new guidelines might not be the end of popular Twitter aggregators like Storify, Topsy, and HootSuite, however, according to BuzzFeed’s Matt Buchanan. Buchanan wrote that there is a difference between “meta-Twitter” sites like Storify, TweetDeck (already owned by Twitter), and Topsy (supposedly safe from the new guidelines), and “media-driven” sites like Flipboard, Tumblr, and others that draw on Twitter to power their own media content.

This trend toward greater control over the appearance and content of tweets reflects Twitter’s development as a business but also raises concerns about censorship. Jeff Sonderman of Pynter chronicled Twitter’s history of censorship, noting that the company said it would start censoring certain tweets in certain countries in January 2012.

In July 2012, Twitter suspended journalist Guy Adams at the request of NBC after Adams tweeted negative comments about NBC’s coverage of the London Olympics and posted the e-mail address of an NBC executive. Adams’ Twitter account has since been re-activated.

These events highlight the conflict between the ideal of Twitter as a natural extension of journalism’s democratic goals and the profit-driven business reality. Commenting on Adams’ suspension, journalist Jeff Jarvis told Kai Ryssdal in an interview, “Trust is our business, trust is our asset, and if we found ourselves giving favor to our advertisers, we'd lose that trust.” Blogger Dave Winer wrote a post noting that Twitter, despite its fanfare as a form of collaborative journalism, is not a “public utility.” “It's a service operated for free by a private company" and "your writing is subject to their whims,” Winer blogged.

For more stories about journalism and social media check out the Knight Center for Journalism in the AmericasSocial Media Freedom Twitter feed.


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