Social media users are becoming the new journalists, with more than half of us learning about breaking new stories via Facebook, Twitter, and other sites rather than traditional news outlets. In fact, when it came to reporting some of the world's biggest recent news stories, social media had the scoop first.
The British monarchy is steeped in tradition, but it showed it's embracing the digital age when it broke the news of the impending nuptials of Prince William and Catherine Middleton on Twitter in 2010. The engagement announcement was sent from the official Twitter account of Clarence House, the London residence of the prince’s father and stepmother, The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
Prince William and Princess Catherine continued to embrace social media with the birth of their first child in July 2013. A press release announcing the birth of Prince George was emailed to media and posted to The British Monarchy Facebook page. That meant that many people learned of the news on Facebook before traditional media outlets had a chance to release the story.
The announcement was also delivered traditionally on an easel outside Buckingham Palace but, in a modern twist, photos of the easel were also shared on the Monarchy’s Instagram page.
Image via Flickr by ltenney1225
It's unclear who got in first, but Twitter users were already tweeting about the death of soul diva Whitney Houston around half an hour before mainstream media outlets. The tweets typically said they'd heard the news from Houston's publicists or other employees.
The news was tweeted around 2.5 million times in the first hour, equating to a rate of more than a thousand tweets every second. That meant that by the time mainstream media caught up, much of the world already knew the tragic news.
Virginians were tweeting about the state’s 2011 earthquake faster than many Americans felt the shock. Online news site Mashable wrote "Tweets began pouring in from D.C. nearly 30 seconds before we felt the quake at our headquarters in New York City." The tweets also came well before the media got wind of the 5.9 magnitude quake.
The Verizon FiOS internet coverage map covers most of Virginia, leading more than 40,000 earthquake-related tweets to hit the web within a minute of the incident.
Image via Flickr by GlenFa
Media outlets knew of the Iranian election protests in 2009, but they didn't give them a human face until video showing the death of Neda Agha-Soltan hit YouTube. A bystander recorded the graphic footage which shows Iranian soldiers killing the 26-year-old protestor with a bullet through the heart. The video received millions of views and news outlets picked up the story of this new face of the Iranian revolution and began investigating her life and death.
The Hudson River Plane crash in January, 2009, wasn't broken by a gumshoe reporter but a legion of Twitter users. Sources dispute who reported it first, but it’s thought that either Janis Krums or Jim Hanrahan got the scoop.
"There's a plane in the Hudson," Krums wrote, "I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy." Her historic tweet was accompanied by a Twitpic, which may be the world's first image of the New York airplane crash. Fifteen minutes before media got wind of the story, Hanrahan tweeted "I just watched a plane crash in the Hudson."
The Twitter account of Pakistani IT worker Sohaib Athar got more attention than he bargained for when he sent a few very important tweets on 1 May, 2011. "Helicopter hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)," he wrote. He followed this up with "A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabadd Cantt. I hope its [sic] not the start of something nasty."
The tech expert was unaware that he was actually live-tweeting the Navy SEAL raid which led to the death of al-Qaeda founder, Osama Bin Laden. He sent out the news nine hours before it hit the mainstream media.
If you're still picking up a newspaper or tuning into the late night news rather than logging on to social networking sites, you're probably the last to know.