The announcement of Whitney Houston’s death, at age 48 on Saturday evening, was first reported on Twitter, 27 minutes before the news hit mainstream media. The Associated Press confirmed Houston’s death (cause still unknown) on Twitter by citing her publicist, but not before two people tweeted the story from their own sources. In the first hour surrounding Houston’s death, about 2.5 million tweets and retweets occurred, amounting to more than 1,000 tweets a second, according to data from Topsy Labs. Friends, musicians and celebrities tweeted tributes to Houston, eliciting thousands of retweets. Houston’s death took place on the eve of the 2012 Grammy Awards, generating even more buzz as the Recording Academy quickly arranged a tribute for the loved singer.
There seems to be an emerging trend of large-scale death announcements being made on Twitter, including Amy Winehouse, Steve Jobs and Osama Bin Laden. The fact that Whitney’s death was tweeted before being officially announced, reveals social media’s emerging role. As more people look to tweets for breaking news, rather than mainstream media, Twitter is becoming a primary and reliable news source in society. Celebrities are expected to release statements on Twitter, for example in regards to Houston’s death, and how many retweets they get shapes their social proof. Social proof plays a role in Twitter and social media because the more we hear about social media’s influence on breaking news, the more we rely on it for news. In another sense, the more influence a person is perceived to have on social media, the more reliable and believable they become.
When you heard about Houston’s death, what source did you use to confirm the news?