Aretha Franklin is alive, and Twitter is growing up.
It’s all such sad news – not so much for the celebrities in question (after all, no publicity is bad publicity, even if it’s a press release announcing you are alive). But for Twitter and its credibility as a 21st Century news platform.
Twitter, like any web technology, is a double-edged blade. Early on, it drew praise by allowing people to jointly cover breaking news such as the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in November 2008 and violent protests in Iran in the summer of 2009.
But crowdsourced coverage of fresh news can also lead to the dissemination of misinformation. The false reports of celebrity deaths may be the result of hoaxes (as the Sheen tweets seemed to be) or of the garbling of a legitimate news (Franklin’s sobriquet “The Queen of Soul” is similar to that of Teena Marie, the “Ivory Queen of Soul” who passed away Sunday). But they show the dangers of crowdsourcing news.
These kinds of mishaps seem to be a rite of passage for emerging news platforms. When online news sites set up shop in the mid-90s, they had to fight to win credibility, just as many early bloggers did when they broke news. The fake-celebrity-death meme will probably continue until Twitter posters learn to become more wary of hoaxes and apply a lesson from Reporting 101 – there is no substitute for old-fashioned reporting.