Twiddling one’s thumb to make and break news!

June 7th, 2009 - 10:20 am ICT by IANS  

Facebook By Arun Kumar
Washington, June 7 (IANS) If a new, tech-savvy White House is using new social networking tools - Twitter, Facebook and text messages - to spread its message, it is because media in the United States has turned to them in a big way to provide news and instant analysis.

As President Barack Obama delivered his historic address to the Muslim world Thursday, the White House’s Twitter feed and Facebook page flooded the Internet with a flurry of messages. And the media was not too far behind in tweeting its thoughts.

Obama “delivered a sweeping message that was forceful and, at times, scolding”, the New York Times flashed even as Obama was speaking. And tweeting from Cairo, Washington Post’s staff writer Howard Schneider wrote: “Halftime analysis from the crowd: let’s see how he implements it.”

“Our goal is to ensure that the greatest number of people with an interest to see this - not just through newspapers and television - but can see this through Web sites,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said about the administration’s aggressive strategy to work the Web to spread Obama’s word.

The first tweet the White House Twittered on May 1 was not about the weather or the First Dog, Bo, but about how Americans can learn about swine flu directly by joining social networks with the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Several federal government agencies have since followed the lead to jump on the social-networking bandwagon. About 30 agencies, including the White House, have joined Facebook and 25 now have YouTube channels. The Library of Congress has begun posting thousands of free historical photos on Flickr.

At present, government lawyers have drafted agreements with 10 private social-networking companies. Six other private-sector products, including iTunes, are being considered for further expansion, potentially clearing the way for easy iPod downloads of Obama administration messages.

No wonder, Twitter, Facebook and the like are emerging as new newsgathering tools even for the traditional news media with sources alerting them to brewing news and others breaking news through tweets.

Sceptics still abound about Twitter - this new fangled service that lets one send messages to “followers” - from profound thoughts about where the world is headed to your choice of breakfast cereal, all on the go.

But more and more people are turning to the new tools, from lawmakers to celebrities to journalists to the man on the street to make millions of faithful followers - and the tribe is growing.

One can publish tweets - those 140-character messages - from a computer or mobile device as the character limit allows tweets to be created and circulated via the SMS platform used by most mobile phones.

While the chattering class may be using it to exchange gossip or trivia, increasingly the social networking tool is emerging as a new information resource to bring stories that one talks about. Suddenly twiddling one’s thumb has acquired a whole new dimension.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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