To Tweet or Not to Tweet

The instant update phenomena has overtaken us.  With the arrival of smart phones and other portable web-enabled devices we live in a world of instant access, instant communication and instant reporting.

A few weeks ago, Continental Airlines flight 1404 and was leaving from Denver and heading to Houston.  It was carrying 107 passengers and five crew members.  The plane veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and did not appear to be airborne.  The plane appeared to have slid into a ditch and was on fire after the crash.  Thirty-eight people were reported to have been injured in the crash, no one died.  The crash was first reported not by a news agency but by Mike Wilson as he sent out a tweet to his Twitter stream from his seat on the plane;  “Holy #$&*@%^#@* I was just in a plane crash!”  (I took out a few expletives :) ).  I believe this action is a mere foreshadowing to how events will be reported in the near future.  Don’t be surprised if Twitter users from across the world breaking newsworthy events becoming a very common occurrence.

Not to be outdone, on January 16th, a US Airways flight took off from LaGuardia Airport at 3:26pm.  Within one minute of take off, the pilot Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger, knew they were in trouble.

A few minutes later the plane miraciously landed in the Hudson River with all passengers safe and no major injuries.  At 3:36pm a news breaking picture of the plane was sent to TwitPic by Twitter user Janis Krums .

No news agency reported the crash until an estimated 3:48pm.

Once again, Twitter and it’s universe of user, scooped the media.

Sometimes breaking the news is not the best thing to do.

Take for example the story of Virginia GOP Chairman, Jeff Frederick.  A few days ago on February 10th, the Virgina GOP nearly was able to wrestle control of the State senate from the Democrats as they were close to convincing a Democratic Senator to switch parties.  This change would have put the Senate in a 20 to 20 tie with the Democrats.   Once at a 20-20 tie, the tie would have been broken by the Republican Lt. Governor. Then Mr. Frederick sent a tweet.


The Democrats saw and read the Tweet and quickly moved to talk the party switching Senator from doing so. This quick action to the update by the Democrats stopped the GOP coup in it’s tracks.

So was Virginia GOP Chairman reporting news?  Or is this a “what was he thinking?” moment.

We have an incredibly powerful tools to instantly communicate today.  Tools that if not used wisely, can be used against us (just ask the Virginia GOP).  So what do we do?  What are some rules we can follow?  This technology is way too new to have accepted protocol like email but if we use a little common sense, we can stay out of hot water:

  • First and always report the facts as you see them.  Nothing added, no imbelishment.
  • If you are involved in something that could be described as “negotiations” it would be safe to never report until the negotiations are complete, and then only if appropriate to report (does anyone remember the non-disclosure agreement you may have signed?).
  • If the item is deemed confidential, keep it as such.  Leaking “secret projects” at work is something for the Marketing Department to figure out :).
  • If you see news happening in front of you, by all means report it (but remember the above points first.)

The breaking of major news has made some normal folks for a short period of time “micro famous” and the incentive is certainly there for people to want to be the first to break the big story.  Using some common sense will help us not only get our fifteen minutes of fame, but let us enjoy it and talk about it the rest of our lives.

2 Responses

  1. Andrea C Parker Says:

    Wow – powerful but true. Makes you think! Thanks!

  2. Shayne Packer Says:

    Good story, Mark. Thanks. What’s really impressive to me, is that Janis’s tweet resulted in 414,968 views (in less than a month) of his photo of the plane in the Hudson. He also went from 149 followers to 3,619 in just 4 days after that tweet.

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