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The Tweeting Practices of German News Accounts

The next speaker at ECREA 2016 is Stefan Stieglitz, whose focus is on the tweeting activities of German journalists. The study understands the public sphere as defined by a triadic influence structure involving official spokespeople, journalists, and ordinary citizens; in a traditional model the information from spokespeople would be filtered and gatekept by journalists before it reaches the general public, but this is no longer necessarily the case in a social media context. Participation, interaction, and – through this – also transparency may be considerably enhanced by these changes. The question then becomes how journalistic norms continue to operate in this environment. Do these norms still exist, and are they perhaps also adopted and adapted by other actors?

Social media may be viewed as a data pool for journalism, then; but there are concerns about the quality and verification of these social media data. Social media are an additional channel for publishing and advertising journalistic content, too; however, the social media norms of sociality may prove to be a challenge for journalistic practices. Here, the question becomes how news organisations and journalists use social media, in comparison to non-journalistic users, and the present study examined this in the German context.

This research collected tweets containing keywords for a broad range of topics during September 2014, and focussed here especially on tweets relating to government surveillance that were posted during a specific week; this resulted in some 9,000 tweets that were further reduced to 6,000 tweets after bots and spam were removed. These tweets were coded for user type; impartiality; accountability (mentions of sources, URLs); and evidence of gatekeeping practics (i.e. journalistic retweets of non-journalistic sources).

The vast majority of tweets were posted by ordinary users; there were some 12% of tweets by spokespeople and some 8% of tweets by media accounts. Citizen tweets were a great deal more informal, while media accounts tweeted more formally; source mentions were more likely to be provided in spokespeople's tweets, though even here they were not especially prominent. URLs pointed largely to media sites; this was most pronounced for tweets posted by media accounts, unsurprisingly. Ordinary users mostly retweeted media accounts; spokespeople had an even split across the groups; while media mostly retweeted ordinary users and other media.

This means that media accounts continue to maintain many of the norms found in conventional media – including formality and impartiality. They do not frequently include source mentions or links to non-journalistic sources, which does not contribute to their accountability; such accountability is provided therefore largely by their news brand imprint. They are willing to share their gatekeeping role, however, by retweeting non-media users including ordinary citizens.