Does Twitter put limitations on discussions of race?

Herman Cain, former Republican presidential nominee (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Herman Cain, former Republican presidential nominee (Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons)

Twitter’s rapid-fire capabilities and its character limitations often make for regrettable outbursts and narrow-minded generalities, especially when it comes to race in media and politics. Eric Deggans at Poynter suggests that the medium limits — maybe even distorts — the discussion of such topics, especially when tempers heat up.

In one Tweet, Tim Graham of and Media Research Center wrote, “MSNBC touting Karen Finney as another African-American host. Would the average viewer be able to guess that? Or is Boehner a shade more tan?” For Deggans, the comment smacked of an old school notion of diversity in the newsroom and “whether a media outlet will ‘get credit’ for a person of color who doesn’t resemble what some expect black and brown people to look like.”

In another Tweet, the deeply conservative musician Charlie Daniels wrote, “Funny how if you say something against Herman Cain you’re a genius If you say something against Barack Obama you’re a racist.” Deggans’ take was that the comment implies all black politicians are the same, regardless of political record.

The foot-in-mouth virus of Twitter is probably not surprising to many of its users, though. One commenter even responded:

“I understand your frustration at the reactions to your tweets, but that does not explain how Twitter was limited in this circumstance. The only thing I read is that you received a deluge of responses from Mr. Grahams followers. I have often seen this happen in comment sections to stories, so I don’t think it is something unique to twitter.”

CNN Steubenville coverage shows media’s problem covering rape

The widespread criticism of CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape convictions highlights the deeply problematic ways most mainstream American media outlets approached the story, according to Mallary Jean Tenore at Poynter. On Monday, a petition asking CNN to apologize for its coverage of the Steubenville convictions–which many saw as apologetic for the rapists–gained more than 30,000 signatures on

(SEE MORE: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC Air Name Of Steubenville Rape Victim)

Tenore’s post shows how, given the limited access the media had to information about the victim, the narrative surrounding the suspects became increasingly warped. She argues that many journalists lost sight of the important complexities of the story and its implications on “rape culture.”

“There’s no doubt that covering rape is difficult,” Tenore says. “[I]t takes time and resources to report on the nuances of the crime, offer context about how common rape is, and explore both sides of the story. But that’s exactly the kind of reporting we need more of.”

Many have said that if it hadn’t been for the efforts of bloggers and the hacker activist group Anonymous, it’s possible the rape allegations may have never been investigated. The New York Times profiled the efforts of blogger Alexandria Goddard, who grew up in Steubenville and helped piece together much of the social media constellation that became crucial in identifying suspects.

Tenore’s Poynter post also showcases Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel, who analyzed the football team’s influence in the town where “a culture of extreme arrogance collapse[d] in two tearful rape convictions.”

(SEE MORE: Gawker’s post railing against CNN’s interest in the “promising futures” of the rapists.)

Social media can make you a better writer

Poynter covered a South by Southwest panel of media gurus who discussed how social media has affected the way we write and speak. The panelists included Fast Company’s Neal Ungerleider; McKinney’s Gail Marie; Digitaria’s Kristina Eastham; and Sean Carton, director for digital communication commerce and culture at the University of Baltimore.

They said that journalistic use of social media actually encourages writers to proofread because they are being read immediately by a large audience who will point out errors. The social media sphere also offers journalists the chance to become the cream of the crop with their writing: with so many people delegating themselves to a wonky shorthand, a well-constructed sentence will catch the smart reader’s eye.

In addition to advancing our lexicon with terms like “friended” and “liked,” social media reminds us that changes in language don’t necessarily reflect degeneration, but more likely a shift we must embrace and try to preempt. It should make us excited that diction and syntax is so malleable.

And online media has taught us to value short storytelling, which can often be more interesting because it forces the writer to fill the post with meaning. “Shorter is better–if you can do it well,” Gail Marie said at the panel. “It takes some level of skill.”