Twitter seems to have evolved to being at the centre of news. It’s a real-time hub where there are opportunities for sharing of information, news and media from any other social media source, whether it be a YouTube video, photos from a shared photo site, a link to comments or a new post on a blog. Everyone can propagate information, news and stories within moments and the man on the street can broadcast a story that spreads around the world in a flash. Everyone has a voice on Twitter and, joined together, it’s a really powerful voice. The power of the crowd is enormous. People can create their own news.

Take for example, the Trafigura news story. In 2009, the Guardian newspaper in the UK claimed to have conclusive proof that toxic waste had been released in Côte dôIvoire and reported that it had been prevented from covering remarks made in Parliament. Guido Fawkes, a political blogger, speculated that this injunction was linked to the Trafigura case. Although there was a news blackout in the UK, the Twitter community ensured that the story remained current, topical and at the forefront of news. Trafigura became a trending topic on Twitter, with thousands of messages all tagged with the hashtag #Trafigura. The gagging order on the Guardian was lifted the next day and the paper confirmed that Trafigura had been the source of the order.

This is really significant. Every member of the community has the ability to become a broadcaster and a commentator on the news.

The broadcaster gains credibility with their audience. Writers build relationships with their readers and the interaction between the newscaster and the readers becomes more personal.

Often people don’t initially see the value of Twitter. They don’t see the benefit of the real-time interaction with a huge potential audience. One of my friends, James, could not understand why people used Twitter at all. He felt that it was a stream of constant chatter distracting him from his day job. Now Twitter keeps him in touch with some of the key influencers in his industry, and he can have a useful dialogue with them on a far more regular basis than just at PR and industry events.

Twitter and Facebook can be linked together with status updates from Twitter appearing on Facebook and vice versa. Twitter has also integrated with LinkedIn so that status messages from Twitter appear on the feed at LinkedIn. The bringing together of parts of the Web 2.0 world in this way means that the edges of the worlds of each conversational tool are starting to blur more and more. These applications are no longer used in isolation, and this symbiotic relationship brings benefits on all sides.

But is Twitter leading or trailing edge? Does Twitter make the news, or just amplify some of the messages made by the few leading edge influencers on Twitter? Is any news broadcast mechanism leading edge? Or are we all just avid consumers and followers of the news? This news could be any type of information which happens to be reported by a Twitter user and comes to prominence as more and more people refer to the item so that it becomes a trend?

When you need to find out what’s happening, where do you go? You probably don’t pick up the newspapers, which might have been printed 18 hours earlier. Do you turn on the TV? Or do you listen to the radio? You will find out the news from your trusted advisers and they, very likely, will have got their information from the instant news channel’Twitter. Time and time again Twitter has had information and pictures about world events long before any other news channel has been able to begin broadcasting. When it comes to emergencies, Twitter seems to be quicker at disseminating information than the popular media channels. In the Australian bush fires in February 2009, the Australian fire authority sent out alerts using Twitter. In Mumbai in 2008, Twitter users helped to compile a list of the dead and injured during the attacks and announced locations where volunteers could go to donate blood.

Images uploaded to the web from a mobile device are also used to very powerful effect. In 2009, US Airways flight 1549, which had just taken off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport, experienced a bird strike. The plane had to land on the Hudson River, which was a fairly routine simulator exercise for the pilot to do. News propagated around the world fairly quickly. The plane landed at 3.31 p.m.; within 6 minutes it was being reported in blogs and tweets, and images were being uploaded to photo sharing sites on the web (Figure 5.2). The time in the image below, shows the local time on, my computer and not the local time where the plane landed.

Photo sharing sites such as Flickr, YFrog and Twitpic, which permit the uploading of photos from mobile devices, guarantee worldwide transmission of images and on the spot access to eyewitness accounts. In an hour or so, more than one hundred pages of Twitter messages about the crash were generated and accessed by newsfeeds around the world. By the time the TV cameras and crews arrived, the passengers were being rescued and the plane was being moved to the jetty. I was looking at Twitter watching the news unfold in text and images. Where were you?

Figure 5.2 Tweet about the plane landing on the Hudson River

When J.F. Kennedy was shot, the world held its breath watching the grainy footage of the last few moments of his life. This 8mm film was shot by an amateur who was watching the motorcade. This footage was played over and over again as experts tried to analyse where the bullet came from. When Elvis Presley died in 1977, the world was informed by an official press release which hit the newspapers and TV some time later. His LP records immediately rushed to the top of the charts. When Michael Jackson was rushed into hospital at 1.14 p.m. on 25 June 2009 with suspected cardiac arrest, the news didn’t trickle out from normal media channels. Community generated news site TMZ, which relies on ’hot tips’, news snippets and images uploaded by its readers, was the first to break the news’well ahead of any traditional media outlets with reporters and paparazzi. This information spread around Twitter at an unprecedented rate. Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, said: ’We saw an instant doubling of tweets per second the moment the story broke. It is the biggest jump in tweets per second since the U.S. presidential election.’16 By 10.30 p.m., tweets containing the words ’Michael Jackson’ accounted for approximately 12% of all Twitter traffic (Figure 5.3), and there were so many requests for ’Michael Jackson’ on Google that it was deemed by Google to be a denial of service attack.

Hundreds of memorial sites soon appeared across the Web and on Facebook. His albums rocketed straight to the top of the charts, and the film of his rehearsals for his concert zoomed into the top 10 movies within days. Michael Jackson’s death, occurring in the glare of the beady eye of Twitter and the digital spotlight, has ensured that his star status will not fade for some considerable time yet.

Figure 5.3 Comment on Michael Jackson dominating Twitter traffic17