I hate Twitter, never more so than on this past Tuesday evening as I watched the CBC's coverage of the American presidential election. As the coverage carried into the early morning, I found myself becoming more and more irritated at the network's confounding decision to display Tweet after useless Tweet from viewers prominently on the screen, right above important information like, you know, the actual election results. I don't recall the CBC's Twitter component being so emphasized earlier on in the night, but it was certainly right in viewer's faces as we waited past midnight EST for Mitt Romney to concede defeat, straight through to the end of Barack Obama's victory speech at around 2 a.m. I wondered what anchor Peter Mansbridge, who I consider as good a newsman as there is today, thought about the front-and-centre Twitter presence on his program. At one point, I was literally even holding my hand up in front of my face to obscure that offending portion of the screen from view...if you ever want to feel truly ridiculous, then catch yourself doing that while lying on your couch at about 1:30 in the morning. My annoyance was such that I even sent the CBC a complaint email the next day and I haven't sent one of those to anyone in a good couple of decades. And yes, I could have just changed the channel to one of the American networks, which I did do once in a while, but I live in Canada and preferred to have a Canadian take on the proceedings.
Here's a paraphrased sampling of some of the received Tweets that CBC felt were deserving of airtime: "That guy over Obama's left shoulder looks very tired", "What's with the flag in the woman's hair in the background?", "What a great speaker", "Mitt Romney looks pretty defeated", and more than one wishing Obama would break into a "Gangnam Style" dance routine (can the 15 minutes of that thing please arrive a little quicker?). There were also a steady stream of Tweets from people offering congratulations to Obama and proclaiming how happy they were with the election results. Great. Thanks so much, CBC and you device-addicted viewers. My viewing experience has been so much more enriched by all of these valuable contributions.
Even if there was anything of merit being said from this segment of the audience (and I didn't count a single one that qualified), I just don't understand what place any of it has on a serious journalistic production covering a historic political event. Obviously, broadcasting of social media feedback has been part of news productions for a while now, especially since Twitter has became so popular in the past few years. But just because something like Twitter exists and is popular doesn't justify the baffling level of prominence that the media as a whole has elevated it to. It smacks of desperation on their part, as a means of engaging a younger demographic in an effort to stem the tide of ever-eroding viewership numbers. As far as I'm concerned, the only impact it's had is that the already-diminished credibility and integrity of the mainstream media sinks that much lower. I read, watch, or listen to the news for information delivered by professionals, as well as for informed opinions and commentary, not for the public's opinion on a topic. This recent shift where the public's viewpoint has increasingly stuck its nose into the narrative and framework of news programs, even if only on a minor level in some cases, is troubling.
I've also noticed an increasing Twitter presence on other TV programs, where graphics with the show's Twitter address or a hashtagged word are now cropping up more frequently. While watching a recent episode of Comedy Central's excellent Key & Peele show, I noticed that "#keyandpeele" and the Twitter addresses of the show's two principal actors were on screen for about 75% of the half hour program's running time. I shudder to think about how much more clutter will be on our television screens just 2-3 years from now, as smart TVs and their seamless integration with other technologies becomes more and more popular. I can completely foresee, say, a show's Facebook "Like" request popping up as viewers watch the program. God help us. Speaking of God help us, I was amazed and rather sickened to find out earlier this year that the Toronto Blue Jays, who I'm a diehard fan of, were selling t-shirts that feature the Twitter handles of some of their players on the back.
Listen, I love technology as much as the next person - my iMac, iPad, iPod, PS3, PVR, and HD TV are all an integral part of the fabric of my day-to-day life (you'll notice I excluded a cell phone...I have one, but can't really stand them either). And I grasp the inherent benefit of something like Twitter, that it allows for a more immediate conveyance of information and, in some cases, is the first media platform on which some stories break (frankly, though, I'm fine with waiting a few minutes more for my news so I can get the actual details that a 140 character-max Tweet can't deliver). But based on everything I've observed over the years since this social media service has risen in popularity, for every legitimate news story that breaks on Twitter, or impactful effect that Twitter has on something like the Arab Spring, or Tweet that has any semblance of thoughtful discourse (however brief it may be), there seems to be about a million others from people with absolutely nothing to say. And don't even get me started on the idiot celebrities, politicians, or athletes who get themselves into hot water on Twitter. It's just one more platform, along with texting and Facebook, to enable the transfer of mostly inane, meaningless chatter and its popularity just makes me feel old, as I'm sure has been conveyed in the grumpy old man "get off my lawn!" tone of this posting.