Legitimating a Platform: Evidence of Journalists’ Role in Transferring Authority to Twitter

Logan Molyneux, Shannon C. McGregor

Information, Communication & Society

Digital Infrastructures

Journalism, Twitter

Social media platforms legitimate speech and shape journalism

Studies suggest a growing interdependence between journalists and Twitter. What is behind this interdependence, and how does it manifest in news texts? We argue that social media platforms (and Twitter in particular) have situated themselves as purveyors of legitimated content, a projection that journalists have not fully challenged and at times abetted. Instead, journalists rely on these platforms both for access to powerful users and as conduits to surface the words of ‘ordinary people.’ This practice treats tweets more like content, an interchangeable building block of news, than like sources, whose ideas and messages must be verified. Using a corpus of U.S. news stories with tweets in them, we provide empirical evidence for our argument of the power of platforms to legitimate speech and shape journalism. This study illuminates journalists’ role in transferring some of the press’s authority to Twitter, thereby shaping the participants in and content of public deliberation.