Can you imagine what the JFK assassination or the tearing down of the Berlin wall would have been like had Twitter existed at the time? News would have spread through the world in the blink of an eye.
These days, some of the most Earth-shattering news first spreads through the Twittersphere long before it makes front page news. Things like the Boston Marathon bombs, the Royal wedding announcement and the deaths of numerous public figures spread online on Twitter many hours before the news story saw the light of day.
In this post I would like to review 6 significant examples of when this news-breaking phenomenon occurred on Twitter over the past decade.
@ReallyVirtual – Sohaib Athar Tweets Bin Laden Raid
One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon — when Twitter becomes a source for news even when every other media outlet is in the dark — was when the SEAL Team Six descended upon Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad, Pakistan compound on May 2, 2011.
A neighbor in Abbottabad named Sohaib Athar, going under the Twitter handle @ReallyVirtual, did nothing more than Tweet about a strange occurrence in the skies above the resort town.
Little did he know that his innocent little Tweet would actually become the very first public disclosure of the highly secretive Navy SEAL operation.
His Twitter stream was the usual play-by-play account of someone describing a slightly unusual event. First the sound of a huge “window shaking bang”, a few jokes about taking out his “fly-swatter” to deal with the helicopter, until finally media accounts started to catch up eight hours later, and Sohaib’s 11:31PM Tweet reflected the gravity of the situation.
About an hour later, after he realized that he had just witnessed one of the most shocking, historic moments in recent history, Sohaib’s made a very sobering tweet at 12:41 a.m. when he wrote, “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it.”
And with one furious day and night of Tweeting, Sohaib became the most well-known Twitter user in recent history.
@Charliesheen Is …Winning!
He may be crass, obnoxious and, well, flat out weird.
Believe it or not, the apparent psychological breakdown of Charlie Sheen in the Spring of 2011 — all recorded via is very surreal and awkward flurry of tweets — was not Earth-shattering news. However, it was one of the most important tweets of its time, because it revealed just how quickly a Hollywood star’s fame and career can tumble with just a few poorly chosen Tweets.
In the series of tweets that outlined his psychotic break, Charlie did everything from trashing the staff and actors of the show Two and a Half Men, to shouting out meaningless quips and random statements like “Winning!”
Why was it one of the most important tweets? Because the phrase “Winning!” exploded across the Internet — at first in a mocking way — but eventually it became a cultural meme that hasn’t gone away.
In an interview with Playboy a year after the fact, Charlie admitted that he had gone through a total mental breakdown, where he unleashed pent-up anger from his many years in “the business”. He told Playboy that his breakdown was fueled by the “outpouring of support” that he experienced on Twitter, after every one of his angry, crazy tweets.
Charlie wasn’t the only one. Chris Brown spouted off homophobic rants. Courtney Love got sued by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir after Love called Dawn a drug-pushing prostitute. And this kind of thing isn’t limited to famous people. Remember when IAC’s Corporate Communications Director told her Twitter followers that she was going to Africa and hoped that she didn’t get AIDS? Yeah, she got herself fired.
@MarsPhoenix Finds Ice on Mars
In the future, if alien life is ever discovered on another planet, it’s probably going to be announced on Twitter first by NASA. How do I know this? Because that’s exactly how the discovery of water on Mars was announced by the Phoenix Lander via its @MarsPhoenix handle on June 20, 2008.
The discovery came when the lander dug a small hole in the martian dirt, and saw chunks of what looked like ice. Scientists waited 4 days and watched as each day the objects shrunk in size under the direct sunlight, and eventually disappeared — proving that the objects were in fact solid water.
Unfortunately, the lander didn’t have the instruments needed to detect organic life inside water samples, and the current Curiosity rover (Twitter account @MarsCuriosity), while capable of detecting elements that can sustain life, is also not equipped to detect life on Mars. But I’m sure that if and when the next rover does detect organic life, we’ll all hear about it first via the NASA Twitter feed.
@Astro_TJ Tweets First Live Tweet From Space
Speaking of space, here’s a great trivia question. Do you know when the first tweet from space occurred and who sent it? Don’t know? This is a funny one, because most major sites like PC World and the New York Times have it wrong. And if you said Timothy Creamer was the first with his 2010 tweet from the International Space Station, you would be wrong too.
CNN got it right though. The first person to tweet from outer space was actually astronaut Mike Massimino, who tweeted about his launch as the space shuttle Atlantis entered into orbit around the Earth, during a mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.
Although, to give credit where credit is due, Tim Creamer did in fact send out the first tweet ever from the ISS. So, that’s pretty cool too.
@news_va_en — Pope Benedict XVI Plugs In!
Some people believe that Pope Francis (Twitter handle @Pontifex), one of the coolest and most popular Roman Catholic popes in recent history, was the first Pope to start using Twitter to communicate with church members. That’s not at all true! Pope Benedict XVI (Twitter handle @PopeBenedictXVI) was actually the first pope in history to officially join Twitter and send a tweet from the official Vatican news handle!
It marked the moment when a church that much of the world considers to be very out-of-date and archaic, made a rare attempt to catch up with the times through the use of technology. Before and since then, many other churches and religions around the world made tremendous use of social networks to keep membership united and collaborating on Church activities and up to date on the latest news.
Miss America Pageant
While it may seem strange to call the flurry of racist comments that followed the victory of Miss New York Nina Davuluri, at the 2014 Miss America Pageant some of “the most important tweets ever” – it actually makes a lot of sense.
The situation created by those tweets exposed the underbelly of social networking, and its ability to lay bare the darkest weaknesses of a particular culture to the rest of the world. The Twitter comments that followed Nina Davuluri’s, an Indian-American and a Hindu, win, ran the gamut, calling her an Arab, saying that her win was a slap in the face after 9/11, and all sorts of ignorant and racist tweets.
Here’s why they are ignorant. Davuluri was born on U.S. — soil she was born in 1989 in Syracuse, New York. She was an intelligent and well-spoken medical student at SUNY. She grew up in the United States and graduated high school at St Joseph’s in Michigan. She couldn’t have been more representative of a typical American girl, except that she was born of Indian parents.
It’s sickening, but this is still the world we live in, and the importance of this event and those Tweets is that it revealed to fair and compassionate people in the United States (and unfortunately the rest of the world), that there still exists an ocean of ignorance and bigotry in the country. Without Twitter, no one would have ever known that such animosity was still there, just festering like a growing tumor.
So there you have it, 6 of the most important Twitter tweets, but there are surely many more. Do you remember any major news events or stories in which Twitter played a central role? Share your memories in the comments section below!
Image Credits: TV interview Via Shutterstock