“Twitter’s only purpose is to get people fired.” That was my sentiment prior to 2010, while listening to a reporter on ESPN talk about some big-shot athlete putting his foot into his mouth. You’ve heard the stories, people, both public and private, say something stupid and then get canned from work. People forget that the Internet no longer provides anonymity, especially when their faces and first names are plastered all over their work. Other than giving people the opportunities to make a jerk of themselves, does Twitter serve a purpose?

For private people, Twitter is unnecessary. What you eat, who you’re fighting with, some quirky quip, what-have-you, is all unnecessary information to share with the world. Twitter (and Facebook) has turned into a dirty laundry airing site. For people not trying to build a brand around themselves, posting Tweets is a time waster.

Twitter JournalismWhat about journalists? Does Twitter serve a purpose for them? Absolutely! Breaking news and journalism go hand in hand. Forget the AP wire; leads for local, timely stories come straight from Twitter. People who post what’s happening around them are a wonderful source for breaking news leads. When journalists turn their Twitters into a sounding board for their snarky opinions, that’s when things take a turn toward the irrelevant. For example, according to Paul Farhi of the American Journalism Review , “Reporters now routinely tweet from all kinds of events — speeches, meetings and conferences, sports events. In February, a federal judge gave his blessing to Ron Sylvester of the Wichita Eagle to use Twitter to report on a trial of six suspected gang members, the first time tweeting had been permitted inside a federal courtroom. Sylvester tweeted frequently from the trial, providing a nearly contemporaneous account. On the other hand, not all tweets are equally useful. Tweets from reporters covering the heavily choreographed political conventions last summer produced plenty of snark and trivia, but little in the way of important or interesting news.”

Journalists can best utilize Twitter by using it to find breaking news, cover breaking news and linking to their articles. When they use it “like everyone else” it cheapens their page and clutters the real news that the journalist posts. At the same time, Twitter shouldn’t be used as a replacement for real journalism. Twitter should be a tool, not the sole medium, for reporting stories. According the Mathew Ingram of Gigaom.com, “Twitter doesn’t replace any other form of media or journalism, any more than YouTube replaces television, or Facebook replaces the need for normal human interaction. Twitter is just a tool, like the telephone or the video camera — it doesn’t replace the need for traditional journalists.”

With Facebook, it is noticeable that like Twitter, people not building a brand around themselves aren’t posting breaking news updates. Journalists would have an impossible time sifting through all the trite status updates, photos, games, etc. for thousands of people to find any relevant nugget of newsworthy information. If anything, Facebook for journalists is more of a promotional tool to drive readers to their articles – not to find information from the readers.

For journalists, Twitter allows a symbiotic relationship between a journalist and readers, whereas Facebook allows for a commensal relationship where the journalist benefits the most. Social Media is a tool that’s great for journalists but could never be a replacement for actual article writing.