Twitter shows us the good and bad of crowdsourcing the news
If you were glued to your Twitter updates last Monday through Friday, you were probably more aware of what was happening in Boston than most law enforcement on the scene and certainly more than CNN. The bombings on Boylston Street didn’t come to us first from a traditional news channel, but were instead instantly evident as they mushroomed out from the Boston Marathon race course through friends of friends and connections of connections on Twitter. We looked away from our screen for a few moments on Monday afternoon, only to look back and watch tweets scroll with eyewitness accounts and photos. It was remarkable. It was nearly instantaneous.
The same thing happened from Thursday night to Friday evening as friends in Watertown, Massachusetts tweeted out details of the lockdown and pictures of armored personal carriers and SWAT teams descending on their neighborhood (thank you, Jon and Mary Chen). It seemed surreal to find out details of what was happening well before CNN or the other networks.
Just today, we were in Boston, staying at the Westin Copley Plaza, just one block from the scene of the Boston Marathon bombings. The streets around Copley Square are still blocked off but otherwise, Boston seems to be returning to normal. We met a police officer who told us he was part of the command center in Watertown on Friday, and that he and his fellow officers were monitoring Twitter as the best source of information. Even better than their police radios. Hard to believe but he seemed credible.
Anderson Cooper was in front of our hotel reporting the news, showing us that Twitter may be fast, but CNN has the budget for the highly paid anchors and enormous satellite trucks. It made us consider how late the media was to the game in a world that is simply too connected and everywhere. Is CNN done? Are the TV crews about to fade into history?
It goes both ways
So just as the world was ready to declare Twitter as the new CNN (some actually did), today happened. The Associated Press Twitter account (@AP, with nearly 2 million followers) was hacked. They reported, “Two Explosions in the White House and Barak Obama is injured.” Before the information could be shown as false, the news spread just as quickly as the Boston story and the Dow Jones industrial average plummeted briefly before recovering most of its losses by the end of the day.
Before this incident, we’re ready to declare the established news dead. But we need to stop and think about what just happened. In this case, it was financial markets and the effects were short-lived, but what if the same were to happen over a false missile attack or something that requires immediate and irreversible response? How much can we trust news delivered by OUR network and not by THE network?
As for me, I think I’ll be looking for multiple sources before I buy into any big story.