Do You Believe What You Read?: Social Media and Whitney Houston's Death

5 years ago

Mashable has a report up that news of Whitney Houston's death broke on Twitter long before it hit mainstream media -- maybe up to 42 minutes before it was broadcast out on major news sites. Her death was confirmed at 3:55 pm, the first Tweet went out around 4:15 pm, and the AP posted about it at 4:57 pm.

Still, according to Mashable, news of Houston's death didn't peak until 26 minutes after the AP confirmed the death: "The news of Houston’s death peaked at 5:23 p.m. PT with 61,227 tweets in that minute."

We've seen this happen before -- from the Discovery Building gunman to the accidental live-tweeting of Osama Bin Laden's death. Average people in the moment using the power of social media to pass along news. Sometimes eyewitnesses are even better equipped to tell people what is happening vs. journalists outside the situation, especially when we are talking about the reporting of basic facts rather than the work of forming commentary.

As this becomes more and more common, with average citizens beating mainstream media to the punch, it raises the question: how much do you believe what you read on Twitter?

Do you believe it the first time you read it? After you've seen it pop up a few times? Only after the news has been confirmed by a mainstream media outlet? And would you stop believing something were true if it was never reported by a mainstream media outlet?

The answer will be different according to the subject matter at hand, but our answers show the power or limitations of social media. Just as Whitney Houston's death turned out to be unfortunately true, there are just as many times that death rumours pop up on Twitter that turn out to be false even if they do go viral in the moment.

Do you believe things you read on Twitter, or does it only become fact when you finally read it on a mainstream media site?

Credit Image: © Chris van de Vooren/Sunshine/

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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