Guest post: Breaking news through social media

Posted by on February 24, 2012
This week’s guest post comes from MarketWave’s intern, Yasmine Gila. Here she talks about Whitney Houston’s passing and its impact on the social media.

Many people were shocked when Twitter broke the news of six-time Grammy winner Whitney Houston’s death, 27 minutes before mainstream media reported on the story. Approximately 2.5 million tweets and retweets occurred in the first hour – about 1,000 tweets a second – according to Topsy Labs.

The tweet that first stated Houston’s passing was reportedly by @AjaDiorNavy, the niece of Houston’s hairstylist.

Should we be shocked? This isn’t the first story to break on Twitter. Last May, news of Osama bin Laden’s death was leaked by Keith Urbahn (the chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) an hour before President Obama addressed the nation.

However, the viral tendencies of Twitter can fuel rumors like a wildfire.  Due to Twitter’s convenience, speed and public access, if the news isn’t accurate, it can snowball out of control and position many news organizations in an embarrassing situation.

In January, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno’s death was spread and covered on Twitter by many large news outlets, including CBS Sports and The Huffington Post, more than 12 hours before his doctors and family members said he had died.

Is the race to be the first to report news going too far, with many news outlets failing to check their sources before tweeting? Could a delay in posting help the accuracy of the stories going out by forcing journalists to dig deeper and find more information than 140 characters?

Two news outlets have already pulled the plug on breaking news on Twitter. BBC journalists have been told not to break stories on Twitter before telling their newsroom colleagues, and Sky News cannot retweet information posted by others, claiming “such information could be wrong and has not been through the Sky News editorial process.”

As marketers, we should be aware of the viral potential Twitter has for breaking news. After all, it can be a critical channel for communication, or a hard-to-stop avalanche of rumors.

Do you believe social media is the future of breaking news? Let us know below.


  1. You bring up some interesting aspects. Every time I see something about Twitter, it’s either that it broke the news way before any traditional media outlets, or that it caused millions of people to believe some celebrity had died when he/she actually hadn’t.

    I’m glad somebody is acknowledging Twitter as having both of these characteristics.

    I think social media already is the future of breaking news, but news isn’t the reliable stuff it used to be.

    Of course, people stopped fully trusting news outlets back in the 70s and 80s.

    Now with so many unreliable, user-generated sources, news outlets like BBC and Sky News, who are taking precautions against the spread of false news, will come out ahead by becoming the ones people wait for to find out if the rumors are true.

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