How news organisations searching your Twitter for news

When I wake up in the morning, I like to start my day by watching the news. Usually my choice goes to RTL News, because they have a funny item called “media overview”. In this item RTL News takes a peek into the other media, and report about news stories which have appeared in newspapers and on the internet. In addition, RTL News often refers to stories that have found on social media sites.


Journalists are increasingly using social media, and consider social media content more and more as reliable sources (Coosto, 2015). With the enormous amount of content we produce each day, journalists will increasingly rely on the use of Artificial Intelligence techniques to analyze this huge amount of data and create news stories out of all our social content (Lokot & Diakopoulos, 2015). In this article we’ll take a look into Artificial Intelligence (or smart data) in data journalism, and the challenges that appear when using smart data techniques to analyze social media content for news stories.

According to Wilde (2010) Artificial Intelligence consists of advanced data engineering technologies, which can perform data modeling and process metadata analysis. It is a technique that can assists users in all kinds of tasks, such as planning, problem solving, decision making, sensemaking, and even predicting. Some examples of such Artificial Intelligence techniques are data mining (an analytical process to explore huge amounts of data), machine learning, and natural language processing (Flaounas, Ali, Lansdall-Welfare, De Bie, Mosdell, Lewis & Cristianini, 2013). Some news organisations nowadays are already aware of these developments and are using Artificial Intelligence to analyze large amount of data, such as content on social media websites, and to create news stories out of it.  


Wait a minute, robots are taking over the news!?
This seems a bit of an extreme statement but let me give you an example from The New York Times. The data science team from New York Times developed a tool that is capable of predicting and suggesting by performing metrics on content from social media. This tool is called Blossom and is able to provide specific information on the content of a certain article or blogpost, to reveal where the content came from and calculate how the content is performing on social media websites. Based on these metrics, the bot can predict and suggest which content is interesting enough to use and to create news stories for The New York Times.  

Screenshot 2015-11-19 at 13.41.18

This phenomenon of ‘news bots’, robotic accounts that are able to do reporting, writing, and data analysis automatically, can be used in many different ways. Because of the undiminished growth of data on the internet and especially social media, journalists will increasingly rely and use information from the digital environment. Although these bots provide intriguing opportunities for journalists and news organizations, it also raises questions about the limits and the risks as well (Lokot & Diakopoulos, 2015).


Aha! There are limits and risks with news bots
One of the main issues of automated news and the use of news bots in journalism is a possible decrease in in transparency. Results of the study from Lokot and Diakopoulos (2015) showed that a lot of news bots (45%) are not transparent about their sources, the algorithms they use, or about the fact that they are actually a news bot. This raises questions about reliability and trustworthiness of ‘automated’ news articles, and how journalists should cope with these developments.

A second issue that occurs in the use of news bots is the problem with accountability on created news content. Although a creator is likely to be accountable for created content in case of legal violation, if news is fully created by news bots than who is to be held accountable for the content? It is likely to say the mentioned author or the news organisations, although that is perhaps from a jurisdicted point of view impossible (Lokot and Diakopoulos, 2015).

And last but not least, there is the issue of ethics to kept in mind, especially in the use of automated news bots. A news bots might be taken an increasingly important role in judgment of content, news selection, and consumption. However, it seems impossible to teach a news bot to act ethically. A certain algorithm that understands ethics would need to be able to understand how humans can see a concern, why humans think something probably matters, and when humans might act on a certain event (Lewis & Westlund, 2015).  


So are journalists going to disappear?
So if I review my statement ‘Are bots taking over the news?’ I guess that this will partially be true. I believe the use of Artificial Intelligence tools will continue to grow in data journalism. Journalists will need these tools to be able to cope with all the data that is being produced on social media on a daily basis. But with some of the issues that are mentioned above, it is clear that improvement is still needed. Human judgment will always be important because of ethical, transparency and accountability issues. Although the nature of the work of a journalist might change in the future, I do not think that journalists have to be afraid to be taken over completely by news bots.




8 thoughts on “How news organisations searching your Twitter for news

  1. Good story, never heard of the tool Blossom. Really interesting to read about this tool.

    I don’t agree with your last and finale statement/opinion, because I think that in the future all journalists will disappear. Computertechnology is growing and it’s growing fast. Journalists are not objective enough and I think that computers are. You can learn a computer to be ethical and to be transparant. When a computer has the right instructions, it can be more efficient than journalists. This is a technology that has to grow and that has to develop, but I think that in the future this is all possible and that it will outgrow journalists.

    Looking forward to your next blog!

    Liked by 1 persoon

  2. Interesting story! Will journalists disappear the coming years? That is the question… I personally agree with your point, robots are becoming smarter and smarter and this can support journalists by for instance scanning the data. However, the coming years I do not think that computers or robust will replace humans. I think what Heide stated that in the future journalists will disappears it might happen if you live in 2045 but not the coming 5/10 years. Nowadays, we should just make out the best of all technologies that exist at benefit from it as much as possible. Even though it becomes more and more difficult for journalists to distinguish themselves and find a job. The only thing what I can advise journalists is start with extra trainings in order to stay up to date with the technologies.

    Liked by 1 persoon

  3. Interesting piece! personally, I don’t think that computers will completely replace journalists. I do think that the collaboration between humans and computers will become more and more important. I think that artificial intelligence is a tool, a very helpful and advanced tool though. In journalism it is of high priority to stay on top of the news and be the first one to report a certain story. So, for screening newsworthy news artificial intelligence might be the solution for providing news the fastest way possible. But, like you mentioned, the transparancy of the source is still an isssue of concern. Therefore I think that the human touch will be necessary in journalism for a very long time.

    Liked by 1 persoon

  4. I totally agree with your conclusion and good point you made about the transparency of news bots about their sources! I was not aware of this. It really makes me question the reliability and confirmed my thoughts about the fact that news bots need human knowledge/expertise to check the quality of the news.

    Liked by 1 persoon

  5. I never heard of the tool ‘Blossom’ before, it is a very interesting tool. I agree with your final statement, I think bots are going to take over some of the news, but not all. In addition, I think that current journalist should think about extra training in working with big data, and data mining. First of all, to know what is possible now and in the future. Secondly, I think it could benefit the stories, and data mining will be used more and more in the future.

    Liked by 1 persoon

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