Bill Keller, who will hand over the New York Times executive title to Jill Abramson in September, made quite an impression when he tweeted last month, "#Twittermakesyoustupid. discuss." Twitter did discuss, and came back (as a satisfied Keller reported in a column a week later) with a range of responses that led to the conclusion, "In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others’ opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid." Many took that column as a general bashing of social media. In an interview with Reuters' Anthony De Rosa today, Keller refuted that impression, saying he actually quite liked social media as a reporting tool.
My view of social media is that it is a set of tools, not a religion. Twitter and Facebook are brilliant tools, the journalistic uses of which are still being plumbed. They are great for disseminating interesting material. They are useful for gathering information, including from places that are inaccessible. They provide a kind of serendipity, a sense of discovery, that some people thought would be lost as print periodicals declined.
But Keller stuck to his conviction about Twitter making people sound stupid.
None of this should be a revelation to anyone who has paid attention, but Twitter is not always a friend of paying attention. I’m pretty sure that a fair number of people who joined the buzz about my column, and a more-than-fair share of those who retweeted it, didn’t actually take the time to read it. Which kind of confirms my point about Twitter not being a great medium for serious discussion.