Opinion

Stop using Twitter as the basis for news stories

simon dellIn this guest post Simon Dell calls for the media to stop trying to whip up outrage based on the back of a few social media posts. 

When Australian company Unicharm launched a new TVC for their Sofy BeFresh pads it apparently, raised the ire of a number of female viewers who took to Twitter to express their anger at the suggestion of fat shaming.  

Except, it didn’t really play out like that.

Fairfax reporter Liam Mannix, jumped on those angry tweets and quickly whipped up an article highlighting the offence that the advert was causing to people and cited three particular tweets as evidence, offering just a single tweet to counter. He then handed the stage over to advertising writer Jane Caro (renowned feminist and atheist) who got seven paragraphs to launch into how sexist Unicharm were being. (Incidentally, Unicharm got two paragraphs by the way of a defence).

liam mannix fairfax sofy ad

Taken at face value, you would assume that there was significant groundswell of public opinion that this advert was disgusting and offensive and sooner or later our residents of Canberra, a sub-editor of Mamma Mia or Waleed Aly would be wading in to tear a new hole into the CEO of Unicharm. Or that whatever TV channels had been playing the advert, would quickly remove it with grovelling apologies. And that finally, the Ad Standards Board would come sweeping in to uphold all the complaints.

One user's response to the Brisbane Times post (click to enlarge)

One user’s response to the Brisbane Times post (click to enlarge)

The article was shared on the Brisbane Time’s Facebook page where, one would have expected given the accusatory tone of Mannix’s article (and his own defence when questioned on Twitter), his stance would have found backing.

But it didn’t. Far from it.

The dissenting angry voices were almost impossible to find with a huge majority of women liking it, commenting on it that the advert felt oh-so-familiar and in fact, sharing it around. Even a few brave men piped up. 24-hours after the post appeared, there had been 150 likes, 29 shares and 133 comment threads – in fact and you would have been hard pressed to find a negative sentiment amongst the comments.

Even Rose Flanagan, the actress who portrayed ‘Period Self’ defended the ad.

Actress Rose Flanagan who played 'Period Self' responded to people describing her as fat on Twitter

Actress Rose Flanagan who played ‘Period Self’ responded to people describing her as fat on Twitter

Further to the ‘drama’ around Unicharm’s ad, Apple’s new product launch the following morning featured some extremely powerful image-altering Adobe software that was demonstrated on stage by showing how they change the visual of a woman not smiling, to a woman smiling.

That of course riled up someone somewhere, with an actual suggestion that Apple should ‘stop telling women to smile’. Others simply saw it for what it was: a demonstration of the power of some software, and not a subverted attempt to control the minds of the women of America.

Which leads me to the point of this article: an opinion on Twitter isn’t news. Nor is it the opinion of everyone else. It’s the equivalent of running out in the street, shoving a microphone under someone’s nose and asking them what they think of the crisis in Syria, recording that and then playing that back on the 5pm news as expert testimony. Proper public feedback requires hundreds of people in order to negate the variance; not three tweets from one evening.

Media outlets need to stop relying on hysterical reactions from vocal commentators on Twitter in order to conjure up a news story – and that’s on both sides of the political spectrum. It would seem the Ad Standards Board felt the same, dismissing the complaints against the Sofy advert.

For those Newsroom fans out there, there’s a quote in the first episode of the first series that sums up the push back we should be demonstrating how these articles presented to us, with executive producer Mackenzie MacHale, played by Emily Mortimer appealing for a return to ‘proper’ journalism.

Civility, respect and a return to what’s important; the death of bitchiness; the death of gossip and voyeurism; speaking truth to stupid.”

That may be wishful thinking and it may be an extreme we don’t really want to see, but please, at least let’s stop using Twitter as the basis for our news stories.

  • Simon Dell is managing director of TwoCents Group

Updated: Buzzfeed Australia political editor Mark Di Stefano has weighed in on the debate, on Twitter:

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