London riots raise the question: how to find reliable tweets?

The Next Web asks Twitter to create an accreditation for reliable journalists. But does that contradict what the medium is all about?

Following two nights of rioting and looting in London, The Next Web raises a question for Twitter-monitoring news junkies: amid the cacophony, whom do you trust?

The trouble is, responsible tweets from eyewitnesses are mixed up with excitable yawps from guys who’ve been texted a rumor from their mates or pub-goers who think a loud noise down the block might signify a cop car getting overturned.

TV—whose reporters are limited by the physics of moving cameras and crews about through an old-fashioned realm known as time and space—can’t provide the everywhere-at-once immediacy of this crazy new medium. By the time a reporter is jabbering live from a smoky street corner, the excitement may have moved on.

“The ‘flat’ nature of Twitter means that all users have equal importance,” TNW says. “While that may be a blessing in most cases, when it comes to assessing trustworthiness, of someone you’ve never heard of before, it can be a problem.”

We’re no expert, but it seems to us precisely the kind of risk that goes with instant publication for the masses. You want reliability, listen to the next day’s account on the BBC or read it your own favorite newspaper.

But when you hand several hundred million users a digital vuvuzela and tell them to have at it, it’s a little late to start yelling for the grownups to step in and tell us which people are worth listening to. Yet this is what TNW is asking for.

TNW correctly praises people like NPR’s Andy Carvin, who has experience in the Arab world and has been amplifying accounts of this year’s uprisings via Twitter. Neal Mann, who works for Sky News, does a similar job in the UK when news breaks, TNW writes.

Well and good. So follow them.

But Carvin can’t be everywhere, and TNW would like Twitter to create some kind of accreditation for journalists skilled at acting as Twitter-based news filters, similar to the “verified user” Twitter places on accounts to help people differentiate real and fake celebrities’ accounts.

They would have the “obligation” to report “responsibly,” and their tweets would show up more prominently in search results for breaking news events they’re covering, TNW says.

To us, this seems contrary to the anarchic spirit of Twitter. One of the great promises of digital publishing was that everyone could contribute to the public conversation without the gatekeepers quashing voices. And it allows for the instant elevation of some local weekly reporter who happens to be at the scene of a disaster—or a guy who hears the helicopters coming for Bin Laden and tweets the raid to the world.

Now of course, TNW isn’t talking about censoring anybody, just giving a boost to the journalists Twitter decrees are the most reliable. But is Twitter really in a position to monitor the worldwide media and make value judgments about them? And do we want to risk having another corporation following the example of Apple, which has applied political judgments to the apps it carries?

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