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News breaks on Twitter, but *you’re* probably not breaking it

June 26, 2009

Many social-media and news people have, in the past year, expressed their excitement about the news-breaking and news-spreading capabilities of Twitter. It’s true that Twitter is extremely over-hyped, but it would be foolish to deny that Twitter is how a lot of people first heard about the disputed election in Iran or about the return of S.C. Gov. Sanford or about Michael Jackson’s death — as a certified Twitterholic, I’ve been known to first hear news there myself.

That said, most people are not breaking news on Twitter or even spreading recently broken news to people who haven’t heard. And some Twitterers are OK with that, content to add a thoughtful analysis or a snarky comment about a news item. But a lot of people are accidentally clogging the pipes with old news.

To be fair, what counts as “new news” is a much narrower category today than it was just five years ago. Nowadays, if you’re two hours behind, you’re out of touch on Twitter.

These people are almost 18 hours behind (screenshot at 11:36 a.m.):

Picture 1

Is it fair to criticize people for not knowing about an event when not even 24 hours have passed? Probably not. After all, not everyone is a news junkie, and not everyone is glued to the Internet at all times.

That being said, Twitter is not the place to share a declarative news event a half-day later. How do you decide that something has been overexposed? Most of the links I share on Twitter are features or analysis, but when I do share news-news, I usually run a quick search to see how many times it’s been mentioned. If there are two or more pages of results, or if I’ve gotten e-mail notifications from the New York Times or Washington Post, I usually don’t treat it as news. (My criteria might be too harsh, depending on your Twitter social circle. How do you define “new news”? Let me know in the comments.)

At this point when it’s no longer “news,” you need to add analysis: You might share how Michael Jackson’s death affected you. You might recount your earliest or clearest MJ memory. If you’re into black humor, you might even make a borderline-offensive joke.

Although this, proving that nothing is original, might be taken as a cautionary tale in Twitter jokedom:

Picture 2


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