Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

I recently had an experience that demonstrates the power (and speed) of social media relative to mainstream media. I thought it would be worth documenting here for posterity's sake.

Yesterday morning my Twitter pal @MikeLangford sent out this tweet:

Fearing the worst since it was the 9/11 anniversary, I immediately jumped on CNN.com for the story. Nothing there. I went to Boston.com. Same thing, nothing about the Chunnel.

Then I wondered to myself, "How long is the Chunnel anyway? Do only trains pass through it?". I wanted to get a better sense of what this problem could mean, so I googled "Chunnel" and the first result was the Wikipedia entry. I scrolled down and much to my amazement, the Wikipedia entry already included a reference to that day's fire!

Wow. Before one of the largest and most respected news agencies in the world (CNN) even had a mention of the story, the internet's de facto encyclopedia had already documented it!

Next I realized "Duh. You found out about this on Twitter, so why not search Twitter to see if there's any other information?". Turns out there was already a buzz in the Twitter community, and I found this tweet from a news agency in Denver stating that the fire had been contained:

There was no mention of terrorism, so I was relieved. A couple of minutes later a large headline appeared on CNN.com, and they'd go on to publish the details of what the Denver story had stated.

I realize there is more to the scenario I've described. The reason CNN has come to be one of the most respected news agencies in the world is because its writers and editors are tasked with confirming a story before it is reported. But like it or not, Twitter has become my main source for breaking news. If I need to separate fact from fiction later on when the "legitimate" news source comes out with the story, that's a tradeoff I'm willing to make.

Of course, the next logical question is how a national or world emergency like 9/11 would have transpired had a service like Twitter been around. Unfortunately, we Twitter users already know the answer to that:

Twitter Fail Whale