Twitter: The next CNN?

10 May

In the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death, there was much noise suggesting that Twitter had seen its CNN Moment. While I don’t deny that Twitter is a powerful force of news aggregation and dispersal, I wonder whether those articles were placing just a bit too much emphasis on Twitter as a source of ‘breaking news’.

There is no denying that Twitter had an important role in the world’s awakening to the events on 2nd May. Sohaib Athar or @ReallyVirtual, unknown to him, was tweeting the mission live as it was being carried out: ‘Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)’. Twitter was also the first to ‘speculate’ on bin Laden’s death. Keith Urbahn, Chief of staff for Donald Rumsfeld, tweeted at 10.45pm EDT, ‘So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn”. It then took 20 minutes for the media to confirm what many now already suspected, thanks to the Twitverse. So the question is, did Twitter break the news? Are CNN, The BBC and others now at risk of being outdone by Twitter.

In this case, and the many that have come before, Twitter did not break the news. By Urbahn’s own admission he was not a reliable source. His tweet was unconfirmed speculation; It was rumour – not news. 20 minutes later the news channels confirmed his theory and this is news. Twitter is not a form of journalism; journalism is a profession with specific skills and best practice. Twitter is a platform for news to be spread. It would be crazy to say that everyone using Twitter is a journalist. Had Keith been a journalist, from a reputable media outlet and had he confirmed sources and statements, then that is another matter.

What we can say with certainty is that Twitter and other social media are changing the rules of news for journalists and consumers. The World is shrinking and news spreads like wildfire. At 11pm ET, ahead of Obama’s speech there were 5,106 tweets per second and once the speech was finished 5,008 tweets were being sent per second. According to Geoffrey Fowler, Wall Street Journal, there were 1.3 million people commenting in some way on bin Laden’s death between late Sunday night and Monday morning. These conversations, whether they be on Twitter or Facebook, find themselves onto people’s screens; people dont have to be looking. The information society has created a 24/7 flow of news and while I’ve no idea how many people these tweet’s were reaching, I’d guess it was an absurd amount. What this hammers home: Twitter and other social platforms are incredibly powerful.

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2 Responses to “Twitter: The next CNN?”

  1. Emily O May 10, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

    I suppose Twitter gives everyone a platform and this is why the rules are changing because you no longer need certain training, contacts or employment to get your words out there. Social media must be a source of worry for government organisations and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before some form of legal action is taken against people publicly saying what they shouldn’t. The trouble is twitter crosses international boundaries so it’s an interesting one. I find out most of my news on twitter first these day and it’s going to be fascinating to see how the role of social media develops.

    • Claire May 11, 2011 at 6:20 am #

      It will certainly be interesting to see what happens with the Super Injunction tweets. I’m not sure they will find the person responsible, but if they do, there’s a good chance an example will be made of him/her, especially as lord falconer and Jeremy hunt on the case.

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