Journalism versus Social Networks: Je t’aime, moi non plus*

March 1, 2022

Laurence Bottero, Editor-in-Chief, La Tribune

When on January 8, 2021, Donald Trump announced that he would not attend the inauguration of the new president- elect, Joe Biden, he made his last act of communication on Twitter. Since then, the former president of the United States of America has been banned from twittering on the social network in the shape of the little blue bird.

Fifteen years ago, this same message would have reached journalists and thus, the world, through a classic press release. REUTERS would have issued a broadcast. “The radio announces the event, the television shows it, the press explains it”, said Hubert Beuve-Méry, the founder of Le Monde (a French newspaper). Today, social networks are a bit of all of this at the same time. A new axis of communication in its most extensive sense, which has significantly changed the relationship of information between the sender and the receiver, the politician/business leader/sportsman and the journalist.

This small revolution – for it is indeed one – is very recent but it is powerful. Twitter is probably the social network that has the most influence on the practice of journalism. And it is now the REUTERS 2.0 channel. It disrupts the codes and sometimes even the deontology, or ethics of journalism. Because by definition, Twitter requires reactivity. Journalism too. Except that the race for the like, for the retweet sometimes makes us forget – and one time is already too much – that journalism is based on a fundamental rule: the verification of information.

What are the facts?

Of course, the race for scoops is not new. In fact, it is the very essence of the profession. What could be more galvanizing than investigating, cross-checking data, questioning, getting lost in circumnavigation, verifying, verifying again and then, sure of oneself and of the sources that have reinforced one’s conviction, delivering exclusive information.

By its hyper-reactivity, Twitter makes us forget the very foundation of journalism: we only deliver information when we are certain of its truthfulness. We should not be surprised then by the avalanche of fake news. This false information, which can be disinformation as well as misinformation (true information, diverted to harm), but which deprives the profession of journalist of its credibility.

Many professions have equipped themselves with a fact- checking service. The term information audit has passed into common language. And it was born ten years ago, already, on the occasion of another American presidential campaign.

Fact-checking is a return to journalism basics, so to speak. Libération, El Pais, BFM, CNN, 20 minutes… all types of media – written press, television press… – have rushed into this space of valuing the verification of information. Clearing up erroneous information, validating what is the right information, explaining, decrypting… This is the quality that is at the basis of the job. And that values it.

Finding the right balance

This is exactly what should enable it to be clearly distinguished from mere communication. For if journalism has been discredited, it is largely itself to blame. Yes, there has been a tendency to want to be beyond reproach with regard to the transmitters of information. To accept proofreading of articles before they are published is to put a finger in the wheel. It means accepting a certain pressure. A certain submission too. But journalism is not just communication.

Finally, if Twitter has become a main channel of expression for journalists, it is also because it has come to fill a need. That of finding a certain form of free expression. A signal – or a symptom – that a return to the basics, to the foundations, was necessary.

But too much is always the enemy of good. And as Twitter became a platform without limits, it didn’t take long to raise another issue: should we stop tweeting? Yes, some editors said. One such publication is Business Insider, the New York- based news site, which has asked its journalists to stop using the social network in order to be more productive and develop their own ideas. A way to remove the influence of tweets. To get away from “trending” topics.

So should we prohibit the use of social networks? Probably not. But we can only hope that the pendulum effect will create a kind of balance between journalism and social media. And that’s where the tipping point is. To use everything with the right equilibrium…

*Phrase attributed to Salvador Dali and later Serge Gainsbourg. Roughly translates to “I love you; me neither”, and describes the conflict between two opposites who are attracted to each other.

A journalist for 25 years, Laurence Bottero specializes in economics. After studying in Nice, she began her career in a weekly dealing with politics and economics. She then went freelance for fifteen years, linking collaborations with different media, always on topics of the economy and innovation. In 2008, she joined the editorial staff of La Tribune, a French business daily deeply rooted in the subjects of territories and innovation, first as a correspondent for the South of France then as editor-in-chief of the office based in Marseilles and Nice.