Fact or fiction Twitter keeps on rolling

By Sarah Klein

Given the speed-of-light immediacy with which Twitter updates are transmitted to millions of eager users, the social networking service has become a major player in breaking hard news.

About 15 minutes before traditional media broke the story, Twitter users sent messages alerting the world to US Airways flight 1549's emergency landing in New York's Hudson River in January 2009. Reportedly, the first tweet came just four minutes after the crash, far quicker than local TV stations or online news sites could react.

Twitter played a similar role in breaking news about the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the political unrest in Iran and the Haiti earthquake, as well as the more recent story of eight teens shot while leaving a concert in Gary, Indiana. In all these cases, tweets were circulating hours before a newspaper write-up was available.

But for every important news story circulating on Twitter, there are also dozens of unfounded rumors that sometimes make even bigger waves. The most common false alarms usually involve the death of a celebrity.

The alleged demise of the hip-hop artist Kanye West in a car crash became one of the most popular topics of discussion last October before friends and family moved quickly to quash the reports. Similar treatment has befallen actor Johnny Depp, rapper Lil Wayne, and tween-favorite Miley Cyrus.

However, the powerful Twitter rumor mill hasn't undermined the site's credibility. In fact, recent research suggests that services like Twitter actually do a better job of conveying information in emergency situations than traditional news media.

Accordingly, some organizations have actually created their own Twitter accounts, including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's CDCEmergency, and emergency services like the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Despite the occasional misstep, no other media outlet has been able to match the speed at which Twitter disseminates information. From its humble beginnings as a micro-blogging site that merely asked "What's happening?", Twitter has now become an essential tool for global news reporting.

You can now follow The Online Mom on Twitter!



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