I Used To Have A Radio Show

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Twitter Says You Are Dead...

I was reluctant to join the Twitter bandwagon, but changed my mind after I became involved with the "Digital Life Show" on Radio Centre-Ville. I was forced to catch up on my “new media” knowledge. I must admit that I find Twitter very useful in coming up with breaking news items.  But what do you do if several high profile news organizations report something that ends up being false?

Twitter was in the news a few days ago because of an unfortunate incident in which Pat Burns was mistakenly declared to be dead. Burns himself had to publicly issue a statement to confirm he was still alive. It is very sad in that Pat Burns is gravely ill, and doesn’t need the added aggravation of hearing about how he has been pronounced dead by most of the mainstream media.

This whole sorry affair began on Twitter. It's not exactly clear how it started, but the rumour was quickly picked up by several major news outlets, who in turn reported it as fact. They started running the obits they had obviously prepared a while ago.

Earlier this year, a Twitter rumour claimed that Gordon Lightfoot had died. The same thing also happened to Bill Cosby a few months ago. The disturbing thing about this is how some members of the media chose to go with a story based on Twitter activity before having a chance to confirm whether it was true. In many cases, people rely on Twitter as sort of news ticker. Therefore, when something comes over the Twitter “ticker“, then it must be true - right?

I was listening to CKAC earlier this week and one of the hosts was making the point that with sites like Twitter, you may have a problem when journalists use one feed to post relevant news items and also use that same feed to post personal information. The argument was made that perhaps they ought to have a separate feed for their private "stuff".

This is still all so new, even though it seems like it's been around for years and years... Traditional media is still figuring out how to use sites like Twitter as extensions of themselves. One has to wonder if any new policies will be put in place to prevent what happened to Pat Burns from happening to anyone else.

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