10 news stories that broke on Twitter first

10 news stories that broke on Twitter first
Twitter is increasingly the place where stories break

When big news breaks, there's one place you can guarantee will be buzzing with analysis and opinion: Twitter.

Of course, most of it will be "OMG! Did you hear what happened?!" but in the "First!" era of news reporting, that's often good enough.

Twitter has been breaking news before the mainstream media since it first sputtered into life. We look at 10 tweets that scooped traditional media.

1. New York plane crash

In January 2009, US Airways flight 1549 hit a flock of geese shortly after take-off, stalling its engines. Pilot Chesley Sullenburger calmly glided the powerless Airbus and its 155 passengers towards Manhattan's River Hudson and it crash landed in the water with minimal injuries - right in the centre of the city.

Onlooker Jim Hanrahan broke news of the daring escapade on Twitter, a full fifteen minutes before mainstream news outlets. "I just watched a plane crash in the hudson," he typed, with typical Twitter understatement. Other tweeters followed, including some posting the first images of the crash.

New york plane crash

2. Night tremors

Where were you during the great British earth tremor of Wednesday, 27 February 2008? Like many, you may have been in bed when the 5.2 magnitude quake hit the north of England.

And, as the dust literally settled, you may have been among those who booted up their computers for news about what they'd just experienced. Twitter was abuzz with bleary eyed tweeters wondering what the heck had just hit them. The BBC's first reports didn't go online for a further forty minutes.

3. Earthquake in China

When disaster strikes, Twitter is now on the scene. Before any mention in mainstream media, China's devastating earthquake of May 2008 was trending on Twitter, with technology blogger Robert Scoble leading the charge. "I reported the quake about an hour before CNN or the major press started talking about it," Scoble says on his blog. "How did I do that? Well, I was watching Twitter on Google Talk..." The tragedy continued to unfold online and in the real world, claiming the lives of over 68,000 people.

4. Google phone revealed

The iPhone 4 had an early debut online when an unfortunate Apple software engineer left a prototype in a bar. But Apple isn't the only phone company to be outed by social media.

Google's Nexus One was sighted on Twitter before its official unveiling, posted by Cory O'Brien - an account executive with a San Francisco marketing outfit . A real leak or a carefully managed stunt? Whichever, the photo was briefly the most famous thing in the technology blogosphere.

Nexus one

5. G20 violence

The coverage of 2009's G20 protests in London were, in some ways, the first time the UK's mainstream media used Twitter to report on an event. The unadulterated story was still coming from the smart phone armed general public though. And in the days that followed, YouTube would reveal just how messy the situation actually became.

6. Michael Jackson's death

News of the King of Pop's untimely demise in June 2009 was a TMZ scoop, but it went viral via Twitter.

How did TMZ manage to trump the mainstream media, all of whom were camped outside the hospital waiting for official confirmation? Simple. TMZ didn't wait for official confirmation - it relied on unnamed sources and on-the-spot rumour instead.

On the day of Jackson's death, tributes and coverage accounted for nearly 30% of all Twitter traffic.


7. Patrick Swayze's death

Twitter was also the first medium where Patrick Swayze's death was reported. In this case, though, the social media phenomenon trumped the telly by and press a full six months. The Dirty Dancing star was ailing but alive when news of his passing went viral in May of 2009. So - not waiting for official confirmation doesn't always work out.

Swayze dead

8. Ice on Mars

Breaking news on Twitter isn't all death and destruction, thankfully. The world learned about a pivotal Martian discovery not from Associated Press, the BBC or CNN, but from the unmanned mission's dedicated Twitter account.

"Are you ready to celebrate," asked the 2008 tweet, "We have ICE!". Proof of water on the planet is a strong indicator that it may in future be able to support life. You know, once we've finished using up Earth.

9. The Discovery Channel siege

A story that barely made a splash in the UK, but that's still testament to the power of Twitter. On 3 September 2010 at around 1pm, a gunman broke into the US offices of the Discovery Channel.

Taking three hostages, the siege ended later that evening when officers stormed the building and shot dead the perpetrator, James Jay Lee. Bizarrely, the first tweets about the incident appeared before hostages were even taken - and one employee of the station even posted photos of the gunman stalking the grounds of the building...

Discovery channel siege

10. Kidnapped journalist tweets to freedom

Japanese journalist Kosuke Tsuneoka was kidnapped in northern Afghanistan and held by the a gang of Muslim extremists for five months in 2010. During his incarceration one of his captors asked for help fathoming out his new phone.

Kosuke obliged and was able to connect to Twitter to tell friends and family that he was alive and well. The journalist was freed by his kidnappers a short while later.