Posted by Craig Kanalley | Posted in News | Posted on 27-06-2009
Lance Ulanoff said it best in his column at PCMag.com: “As I watched this unfold, I likened Twitter to a bad game of telephone.”
He’s referring to Thursday, June 25, when breaking news of Michael Jackson being rushed to a hospital and later the announcement of his death took Twitter by storm for hours, while rumors surfaced of Jeff Goldblum and Harrison Ford’s deaths as well.
Ulanoff pointed out, rightly, that for some time, the social network was filled with rumors, claims that had no links or credible sources backing them up. It was a mess.
Soon, media outlets succumbed to the pressure, running off the rumors and limited information early on in an attempt to the get news to their readers first. They knew every second was precious and this was a big opportunity to break a potentially huge story. Once TMZ reported Jackson’s death, dozens of outlets, including Reuters, ran with it.
In the rush to get the story first, some seemed to throw standards out the window. This included the general tweeting public, who in a surge of excitement began retweeting anything that came their way about Jackson or the other rumored deaths.
So what can we learn from this?
As instantaneous as Twitter can be, it can also be a dangerous place in a major breaking news situation, cluttered with misinformation. The rumored reports corrected themselves in time, but for hours, they were rampant – for instance, that Jackson committed suicide.
For a journalist monitoring Twitter and trying to gather reliable facts during this chaotic time, he or she would almost certainly need to know trusted Twitter accounts to go to ahead of time — publicists, close friends of Jackson, and so on. Because in the rush of the moment, seemingly all of Twitter became a flurry of rumors. It would be a crapshoot whether or not you’d happen to stumble upon the right random tweet at the right time amidst 700 per minute at one point. And even then, how can you be sure?
This, as a case study, once again shows the importance of verifying tweets and for every journalist to approach Twitter with caution. Again, it’s a phenomenal tool when used the right way, and when you know where to look. But if you’re not well-versed in Twitter, and don’t have a plan for breaking news like this ahead of time, you can easily become just another of the thousands confused as can be.