I promised myself I would keep my laptop shut off this weekend so that I could do some actual reading, as in you know, from a book, but after reading MG Siegler’s piece in TechCrunch titled “In The Age Of Realtime, Twitter Is Walter Cronkite” on my mobile fone, I knew I had to post a response.
Some back story: Tiger Woods, the professional golfer, was involved in a car accident. The news of this incident was first reported by the @BreakingNews Twitter account in a message that said: “BULLETIN — REPORT: FAMED GOLFER TIGER WOODS SERIOUSLY INJURED AFTER CRASH NEAR FLORIDA HOME.” Less than an hour later CNN.com posted one sentence on the subject, saying: “Golfer Tiger Woods was injured in a car accident near his home, Florida officials say.” After some time passes it is revealed that the accident was minor and Tiger Woods is fine, in fact his “injuries” are so insignificant that he walks out of the hospital.
These events inspired MG Siegler to write his piece, arguing that Twitter is the Walter Cronkite of the real time web. He uses the assassination of former American President John F. Kennedy, which took place in 1963, and the method of how Walter Cronkite reported it, bit by bit, as a comparison to the Tiger Woods incident that took place on Twitter less than a few hours ago.
The people in America in 1963 who found out about the assassination of JFK first were the people who were watching one of the three television channels (ABC, NBC, CBS) available at the time. The show they were watching was interrupted with a special report. Walter Cronkite appeared on their television sets, and people started paying attention because the man was trusted by millions during those days. People took what he said as fact because he had integrity. Earlier this year Barack Obama gave a speech at a memorial after the death of Cronkite. He told the story of how Cronkite once worked at a radio station in Kansas City. His boss just received word of a huge fire at City Hall and told Cronkite to report it on air immediately. Walter, being the man he was, went straight to the telephone to contact the fire department and confirm the story, which turned out to be nothing more than a garbage can that caught fire. Because he decided to get the story right, versus getting the story out first, he got fired.
Twitter is Cronkite’s old boss. The information he received about the fire at City Hall was from his wife, and he was just passing it along thinking it was the truth. The people who found out about Tiger Woods’ accident read it because someone, just like Cronkite’s old boss, hit the retweet button. On Twitter, and in today’s world, people tend to believe what their friends say. Everyone is communicating with everyone. Those 3 channels airing in 1963 are now tens of million, blathering on Twitter.
Twitter is just a tool, just like email, just like the telephone, just like the telegraph. The tools people use are insignificant, the people who use the tools are the only thing that matter.
Why am I writing about this? Because everyday we’re making interacting with more and more content, and upon consuming said information we all have to make a decision as to the credibility and importance of that data. In 1963 when Cronkite hit the television waves he understood he was being watched, and depended on, by an entire nation to get the facts straight. The people chose him as an authoritative source because of his reputation, and because he was competing with only two other programs. Today we’re in a strange new world, and we don’t know what information to trust, much less who to trust since we’re interacting with a far greater number of people than in any point in our history.
Thinking critically is a skill, and you’re better off learning how to do that properly than wasting your time on Twitter. Keep that in the back of your mind this weekend and start asking yourself who do you really trust for news, and why?