Torquing Twitter For Traffic

I follow a lot of people on Twitter. I’m not Robert Scoble, but I’ve got a pretty decent list of interesting people that I can tune into and get statuses, opinion, and general amusement.

art Yesterday, Twitter lost its goddamned mind.

Once again, Twitter proved itself to be the Associated Press for the people. I knew about Michael Jackson being rushed to the hospital before many major news sites starting carrying the story. Likewise, I knew that he’d died before many major news sites posted their stories. That’s the power and the beauty of Twitter. We went from talking about what’s going on at work, what’s up with our lives, and other run-of-the-mill stuff and started breaking news even before it really broke.

Twitter has this habit of scooping mainstream news and it’s amazing to see.

Unfortunately, in the wake of the news of Michael’s death, several disreputable users took advantage of the chaos to benefit them. They posted news about Jackson along with a link, presumably, to a news site. But the link didn’t go to a news site, it went to a site about making money online, or getting laid, or making money online by getting laid.

When people got wise to that, they started posting rumours about the deaths of other celebrities. Among others it was reported that Jeff Goldblum fell to his death in New Zealand and Harrison Ford had passed away. It was the same MO, post the phony news with an equally phony link.

And people bought it. For a good half hour Twitter was inundated with rumours about Jeff Goldblum dying and “OMG IS THIS TRUE?”. It seemed that no one except me and a few other librarians knew enough that, if Jeff had died in New Zealand, then news of it should be all over Aotearoa’s newspapers. We hit the New Zealand Herald among other sites, and guess what?


The big story was Jackson’s death. The only thing that mentioned Goldblum was a story about his new role on Law & Order.

Hell, turns out the man wasn’t in Aotearoa. He wasn’t even in the Southern Hemisphere. He was, as you’d expect, in LA.

Though I doubt it, I still really hope that a few people learned a lesson. It’s an old lesson about fact checking and I think Carl Sagan said it best: Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.


  1. I wouldn’t call Twitter the AP of the people. Watching Twitter for news is more akin to keeping a scanner running in the background tuned to police and fire frequencies. If you saw my tweets this morning, I’m not amused with the AP for some of their recent crappy reporting.

    I will say, though, that listening to the scanner sitting next to my shortwave rig can sometimes be more informative than Twitter.

  2. That’s the point, really, and your metaphor is perfect. Twitter is kind of like the police band scanner. What I really mean is that the AP, as you know, has cracked down on its reporters using, well, the Internet really. I guess they think that’s going to stop things and it’s not. It’s not even going to make a dent.

    So is it quality? Hell no. The signal to noise is atrocious. However, with a few well formed searches, one could do themselves a real decent job of creating their own news network online.

    As we all know, that’s what CNN recently learned. I bet they’ve got Tweetdeck running searches like mad. 🙂

Leave a Reply