I first read the news about yesterday’s Boston Marathon bomb attack on Twitter. It was a full 15-20 minutes before CNN reported it on Cable, and probably 35 minutes before any major media had a story online. Boston.com was the first outlet I saw to report on this.

Meanwhile, Twitter had photos, video, running real-time commentary.

I recall something similar occurred with the OBL assassination.

All of this raises a very interesting question: Is Twitter the new tape? Has it replaced newswire services, Dow Jones, AP, etc?

Discuss . . .

Category: Web/Tech

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

35 Responses to “Twitter is the New Tape: Discuss”

  1. zcarter says:

    Twitter has everything first, generally by surprisingly
    large margins. Most surprising to me is I only have about 100
    follows, focused on some key interest areas:
    finance/investment/macroeconomics, sustainable agriculture, and
    sports analytics. The power of the retweet echoes the important
    news events to every corner of the Twitterverse almost

  2. GeorgeBurnsWasRight says:

    I’m apparently the first comment, but if I’m reading the counters correctly, there have been 15 tweets about this. . .

  3. constantnormal says:

    So far as downstream media go, this is almost certainly correct … but the ones at the event horizon are still the first to know … all else is after-the-fact reporting, with the uncertainty in getting the facts right varying inversely with the distance in time from the event.

  4. Pantmaker says:

    NPR radio had it on within minutes of the explosion and minutes later on their website. They were also monitoring twitter feeds and began pointing out inaccuracies in many of the posts. Before you knew it half of the program was about all of the twitter BS. Twitter is like a digital version of the running of the bulls.

  5. stonedwino says:

    Yes, Twitter is the new tape. In the first 5 to 10 after an event Twitter is great at disseminating the news. After that something more cogent with more substance than a tweet is necessary.

  6. Mike in Nola says:

    I’ve come to agree over the past few days. Have had a twitter account for awhile but never paid attention, but with the new Windows Phone I’ve started looking and found it a better way to keep up with things while we were on a trip this weekend.

    BTW, @DrPizza has posted an article on Ars Technica about the dangers of allowing economists to use computers (my interpretation of the problem)

  7. hue says:

    Reporting and having sources still helps. I know a Fox 5
    reporter in Atlanta. Her co-worker got the scoop on the first photos of the
    Boston bombs
    . “Dale dissected the [1996] Olympic Park
    bomb, tracked down nail purchases and such to a North Ga. Walmart.
    His Fed sources go back to the Roy Moody judge bombings.” Depends
    on who tweets. A knowledgeable person like BR on markets, great.
    False bombing
    also spread like wild fires on Twitter.

    • zcarter says:

      Good point – as fast as Twitter is, it also seems much more susceptible to false rumors than “the tape.” In this case, there were very early tweets that “the last mile of the Boston Marathon was dedicated to Newtown,” and then that “AP reports the bomb went off next to a bleacher full of Newtown family survivors,” all suggesting this could be some kind of anti-gun-control statement. Twitter echoes these things around quickly, but then again, the rebuttals move equally fast.

      • hue says:

        One of the false rumors was that the government shut down cell phone networks to keep from another bomb being remotely detonated. The networks were overwhelmed, not purposely shutdown. The rumors then get repeated by the media. I think I heard that cell phone rumor on npr. Here’s the correct link of the bomb pics http://bit.ly/11fnP5Z

  8. bobmitchell says:

    Who owns twitter?

    I agree with the statement, it is the new tape. But, how did they manage to get such a huge buy in from “the media”?

  9. Bob A says:

    bloomberg and cnbc had it pretty much right away and you could see
    it even with the volume muted which it usually is.

    how do you filter twitter enough to be useful? i haven’t found a way.
    99.9% idiotic babble and retweets

  10. dina says:

    Tape does not lie. But a tweet or facebook like can be a wrong information. In countries like India, the government intervenes and blocks a twitter or facebook account which is spreading wrong information.

  11. Mike in Nola says:

    Bob A:

    be selective in who you follow

  12. maspablo says:

    I saw a post on it (business insider around 3PM) , (dont use twitter) , looked around and didnt see anything . I actually forgot about it , till it came on Bloomberg TV around 330 .

  13. Sara Stein MD says:

    (From a trauma social media talk I gave last year in Cleveland)
    For breaking news there is no other media – consider these moments
    Case One
    1/15/09 Hudson River plane crash 3:24 pm
    first Tweet 3:28 pm @highfours “I just watched a plane crash into the hudson rive in manhattan”
    3:50 pm first video posted – Twitter
    4:03 pm first crash photos – Flicker
    4:12 pm 1st You Tube video
    5:02 pm NYT (finally) tweets

    Case Two (yes I know this may be irrelevant, but it is illustrative)
    6/25/09 2:20 pm TMZ.com reports Michael Jackson’s death from eyewitness in ER
    6 minutes before he was pronounced dead. Widely tweeted

    Case Three (for Bob A)
    Iran Elections Uprising June 2009
    from mashable.com Nearly a billion tweets on Iran’s political upheaval – 10,000 to 225,000 per hour.
    An estimated 20 million tweeters changed their location and time zone to Tehran to protect the tweeters identities.
    from Wapo “The State Department asked social-networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance earlier this week to avoid disrupting communications among tech-savvy Iranian citizens as they took to the streets to protest Friday’s reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ”

    Case Four
    ‘When the 2011 earthquake hit outside DC, people in New York saw the tweets before they felt the shaking themselves”
    Wendy Harman, Director of Social Strategy for the American Red Cross
    (the average shockwave from an earthquake travels at 700 mph)

    So yes, breaking news. Also misinformation, conjecture, backtracking, and the usual me-me-me blabber.

    Interestingly when the blabber was analyzed by software from Japan called Kazemill – they were able to map symptom clusters and track the spread of the flu across the country based on people’s meaningless health tweets. “18,000 daily mentions of specific symptoms – such as throat pain, runny nose or chills – are gathered along with geographic information and overlaid on a map of the country”.

    It is, as we saw in the latest hurricane, the only reliable way for agencies to communicate disaster relief.

    I so love this stuff – great talking to Josh and Kris this week!

  14. Chief Tomahawk says:

    Just so long as folks are rendering assistance to those in need before seeking kewl pics for their social media pages…

  15. beaufou says:

    Since newspapers and 24 hour TV has nothing to offer but commentary, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that twitter or facebook overtake them. In order to survive, “old” media outlets will have to do the opposite of what they have done recently: investigative journalism.
    You know what happened, do you need Maddow or Hannity describing it to you? pathetic

  16. jdreeves says:

    I first learned of the Chelyabinsk comet from a friend who was born there; he received a panicked call from his mother, who said that there had been a huge explosion, all the windows had blown out, and that they were being asked to evacuate; and then was suddenly disconnected. This was no more than 20 minutes afterwards.

    He happened to be right around the corner from where I live; so he came over to use my computer and net connection for more info. We scoured the news sites; the international media had nothing, and there was one minor mention on a russian news site; but a canadian hockey goaltender living in chelyabinsk posted the the first dashcam videos twitter within about 20 minutes of the explosion.

    It was a surreal event; at that point, almost out of a delillo novel. Unclear whether it was a meteor, military explosion… but twitter was by far the best source of news before the media caught up.

  17. Global Eyes says:

    It’s a fast world we live in. When speed matters, twitter rules.

  18. Sheli says:

    UK journalist Simon Ricketts has written an interesting piece collating the things that came out on Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the Boston tragedy. He lists things from both ‘average joe’ tweeters and ‘well-placed’ commentators that became widespread, that were in fact not proven.


    Twitter is extremely powerful (I have used it to source images from eye witnesses for news stories on previous occasions) but unverified information should be treated with caution. Even images that go viral should not be trusted. You only have to search something like ‘fake Gaza images’ to see lack of fact-checking in practice.

  19. michaelbatnick says:

    Twitter is great because you dictate who to follow and who to ignore. People are quickly vetted and frauds have virtually no way of amassing an audience.

    My favorite use of Twitter is people congregating for events. I could not get enough of Twitter during the Republican Presidential debates, so many 9-9-9 jokes, it was fantastic.

  20. econimonium says:

    As a Bostonian (and running a social media analytics company), I watched the tweets, articles, blog posts, and all social media come through our system live. I can say a couple of things…

    I agree that Twitter helps to disseminate information quickly, especially in the first moments of something. It takes longer to write an actual story, check facts, etc. That is problematic because, as the stream of Tweets keeps going, it gets less reliable and a rumor monger source. In fact, if you followed Tweets, you’d have been very misinformed about suspects, toll, injuries, etc and exactly what the police were doing. In fact, authorities had to come out and deny speculation that was rife all over Twitter. Then once the stories began to appear, the Twitter changed to *references* of the stories pretty much, and not reportage.

    So Twitter is not “the new tape”, unless you like your tape to be taken with suspicion unless verified.

  21. gloeschi says:

    Twitter sucks. I prefer *much more* to get my information from nightclub bouncers (Consumer News and Bullshit Channel) giving crooks (Belesis) a platform to utter their nonsense. I *love* being showered by the same commercials (“retractable sun-setter, pajamagram, AARP) over and over again until I can sing them in my sleep. Because I love torture.
    I also *love* getting my information from biased and/or clueless newspapers (WSJ blaming Obama for stock market drop in January 2009 due to his “ant-business” stance, then giving zero credit for 100%+ stock market rally).
    I love spending big bucks for information systems.
    I love wasting huge amount of time for reading endless self-pleasing articles with little substance.
    [sarcasm alert]
    Why would I not love Twitter? It’s great. Let’s hope it won’t be ruined.

  22. sccofer says:

    So who should I be following that I am not??

  23. couragesd says:

    I actually got the Boston news from my AP phone alert. It was sent long before anything else I found online. Don’t remember seeing it on twitter offhand.

    Having had a lifetime of reading a wide range of news sources I love Twitter. I use twitter in 3 different ways.
    1. Catching trends
    In the past I would have to read a number of different sources to watch the new cycle evolve. On twitter, I can often see the nexus of the cycle and watch it grow and fade. This is also neatly organized with other articles. For me it is often important to follow the trends because they influence the mood and sentiment and visa versa. It is also important to try and understand who or what may be trying to influence the trend and or mood/sentiment. This can help me be aware of both external and internal biases in decision making. Twitter is a great tool for all of this.

    2. Catching mood and sentiment
    Although something reported as news may not actually evolve into factually based news, it often gives great clues on sentiments. One of the great things about twitter is that it it doesn’t filter language. I use mood and sentiment very similarly to trend, but often there is a mood that isn’t reflected in a trend that is important to take into account. Is this an early reflection of a future mood and thus trend starting or just blowing off steam or over exuberance.

    3. Actual news
    Long reads. On twitter I follow a lot of Science and professional news along with traditional news sources. This provides me with direct links to the long reads derived from focused and thoughtful journalism and publishing. Sometimes these long reads produce trends when they are published, often I see the cycle catch on about 2-3 days after the article (unless there is something very ‘catchy’ or bizarre in the article). I see this as climate vs. weather. It has influence and is important knowledge but as far as timeliness not as important, excluding the exceptions. As far as understanding overall focus and future growth, the long reads provide a lot. Twitter helps me to easily surface these without going to the actual sources.

    Finally, someone pointed out to me before I started using twitter to not use it as tool to follow friends but to use it to follow organizations and people that have something to comment or report on that is your personal interest. Most importantly they recommended that I follow people that I may mostly agree and disagree with. This has been invaluable advice. All said. Twitter is my go to.

  24. Joe says:

    I have no experience with the tape. But if the tape was predominantly prices and press releases, and had a consistent editorial gate and depth to the stories condensed onto the tape, then Twitter is not the new tape. Or maybe it is if your individual feed is tight and focused.

    Unfiltered, Twitter is the open window/building janitor/guess what I just overheard/here’s what I just saw/guess what (I think) just happened. World wide

    Filtered, it is “You can trust that this is what I saw and what I think, guess, or is my incredibly accurate insight. … in whatever it’s state of completeness or incompleteness that I or you think it is. Analysis to come and I think about this and post about in a different format elsewhere.

    Stories have time periods and depth. From the free way closed/opened due to a multi car accident, to Reihard/Rogoff published a new study/ News just out on R&R’s study from years ago. Twitter is the shout and first glance. The more actionable and reliable you saw the tape, the deeper the story condensed onto the tape, the less Twitter is the new tape.

  25. James Cameron says:

    Well . . . news is breaking that a suspect has been ID’d . . . this is from CNN, not Twitter. We’ll see what comes of it.

  26. mrflash818 says:

    Not just twitter. I think that for many news items, it is the age of social media.

    I remember seeing all the youtube entries about the recent meteor over Russia taken and uploaded by individuals, for example.

    For people that have video cameras and access to them, social media is a way to get information distributed regardless if it ever arrives to broadcast news (TV, newspapers, etc)

  27. BoKolis says:

    Depends on how much stock you put in it. In any case, the time has definitely come to amend the saying, a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on. In this age, the truth doesn’t even get a chance to wipe the cold out its eye.

  28. formerlawyer says:

    I have heard it both ways, Twitter spreads good news
    Twitter spreads bad news
    Not being fluent in Twitter, I have no account, but I do follow my daughters in University, It is difficult to say which is correct.

  29. SIMON RICKETTS: The point is, perhaps that Twitter for a news-gatherer – in my experience – has very often become the “canary down the mine”. It senses the gas leak first, mostly correctly. And then it dies.


  30. jaltucher says:

    What a great discussion this has been.

  31. Jack says:

    Is it really that important to be first when it comes to information delivery? I find it disheartening when a read the post facto chest beating stories about who got it it right and who didn’t. Small example: the reporting on the period of time between “explosion one” and “explosion two”. I heard and read over two days everything from 2 seconds to 30 seconds. Now this is a big deal fact for the cops. But why is it a big deal for the reporting groups to make this point? I think it’s because the reporting groups want to show their prowess in obtaining those nebulous facts that will give greater credence to their reporting.

    I also think it’s shitty journalism. This first with the facts crap is causing great turmoil (I think) among the the receivers of the information. Just because we can communicate more quickly doesn’t mean we get better information.

    In my mind Twitter makes a bad situation exponentially worse.

    A Tweet is not the “Twooth”.