Social media editors are an interesting breed of New Age journalist. They are essentially charged with searching the web for content and promoting their respective news organizations. Some social media editors position themselves as respectable, responsible journalists: carefully vetting information and actively seeking out accurate information. “Some of them are more like loner Internet addicts.”
The validity of these paid-to-tweet employees has been scrutinized lately, particularly following the media clusterfuck during the Boston Marathon bombings and subsequent manhunt. For one, in an onslaught of tweets, retweets, favorites, likes, and links, it’s all too easy to make mistakes.
But whether the information disseminated by these “wunderkind of new media” actually does anything positive for news organizations is difficult to answer. Lately, the more apt question – eloquently posed last month by the Awl – is, “Is Your Social Media Editor Destroying Your News Today?”
Case study: Matthew Keys. The former Reuters social media editor, alleged Anonymous hacker, and all-around-pretty-annoying Internet personality took Twitter by storm last month, in what would be his final undoing as Social Media’s Flavor of the Week.
Keys, who was indicted in March by the US Justice Department for conspiring with Anonymous against one of his former employers, was sanctioned by media outlets during his “coverage” of the Marathon bombings. The erroneous information Keys tweeted during the manhunt was his ultimate demise – he was suspended from Reuters on April 22.
But Keys likely had the termination coming; several days before he received the phone call from Reuters, Keys publicly accused his boss, Anthony DeRosa, of plagiarizing a tweet. To solidify the point, Keys included a side-by-side graphic of his and DeRosa’s Twitter feed, revealing pretty much nothing except that when Jay Carney says something, people tweet it.
So Keys is a little territorial over his 140 characters, fine.
But the public shaming didn’t stop there. Following his suspension, Keys took to Twitter to reveal who he believed to be the source of an unflattering conversation that wound up on Gizmodo. Keys charged Jared Keller — who was then the director of social media for Bloomberg — with leaking an off-the-record conversation.
In retaliation to the leak, Keys tweeted a screenshot of a Direct Message conversation between himself and Keller, writing the caption, “Moral of the story: Be careful who you confide in — especially if they are a certain journalist at Bloomberg. It could wind up on Gizmodo!” Keys locked his account shortly after sending the tweet. A few hours later, Keller announced his termination from Bloomberg.
So this is what happens when social media editors starts acting like teenage girls.
Perhaps giving someone reign over an organization’s social media is too great a power. Perhaps “King of 140 Characters” is too glorious a label for the average man to handle. Perhaps Matthew Keys is just a loser.
But the Keys-DeRosa, Keys-Keller debacles represent some of the larger questions surrounding this New Age psuedo-journalistic position, “In Charge of Tweets:” What good is it doing? How much copyright is allocated to 140 characters? How much of a jerk can you be from behind a computer screen?
(Not a lot, Not a lot, and a whole lot, respectively.)