#WhitneyHouston’s Impact on Twitter

Looking at how trusted news breaks in the age of social media

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How do we measure significant human events on the social web? The news of Whitney Houston’s  tragic death on Saturday, February 11, 2012 spread like wildfire with 2.5 million tweets within the first hour, which averages out to about 1,000 tweets per second. To put this in perspective let’s compare the number of tweets about Whitney Houston’s death to other significant events that posted on Twitter:

  • Michael Jackson Death: 493 Tweets per second (2009)
  • Osama Bin Laden’s Death: 5,000 Tweets per second (2011)
  • Beyoncé Announces Pregnancy: 8,868 Tweets per second (2011)
  • Whitney Houston Death 1,000 Tweets per second (2012)

At first glance it would appear that Michael Jackson’s death was “insignificant” compared to the other celebrity events based solely on the numbers, but the explosion of Twitter’s usage as a news source over the past three years puts the numbers into better perspective and shows where we are in terms of people’s immersion in social media today

How the Story Broke

The news broke on Twitter 42-minutes prior to the first traditional media outlet reporting Houston’s passing. The first tweet reported came from @ajadiornavy at 4:15 pm PST, followed by a tweet from @chilemasgrande at 4:30pm PST and then the Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 4:57 pm PST that Whitney Houston was dead. Twittizen’s enabled with mobile devices were in position to become news sources, which is changing the way we define news.

As a rule reputable news sources have to check their facts before going public, which impacts their time to market. Your average person with a hot tip or even a rumor doesn’t have those constraints and can break news before your traditional media outlets. The important question to ask now is: Where do we look to for our news and what is the role that social media plays in how we communicate and share significant events?

How the News Spread

The first tweets were not the most significant. The most significant tweets were celebrity tweets and the AP tweet, which gave validity to what may have initially perceived as rumor. The power in Twitter is in the Re-Tweet so tweets that have a large followership, such as a celebrity or large media accounts, influence the spread of news in a very impactful way. For example:

  • Lil Wayne 29,000 Re-Tweets
  • Justin Bieber 15,000 Re-Tweets
  • AP 10,000 Re-Tweets

Finding Trusted a News Source in Social Media Age

When there are significant human events potentially happening everyday how do your monitor breaking news? Do you do organic searches in Google all day? What source do you check to keep up with what is happening?

I will use myself as an example, illustrating how I found out about Whitney’s death. I was just leaving the movie theatre with my wife when someone mentioned to me that Whitney had passed away. I then went to my Twitter app on my iPhone and looked at the trending topics to confirm that Whitney Houston had died (Whitney Houston was a trending topic on Twitter for an entire day with: #RIPWhitneyHouston). Next, I opened my CNN mobile app, found a link on the homepage, and shared the link on Twitter and Facebook and linked it to a trusted news source CNN in the matter of about two minutes. The world is changing and social media is at the heart of how we capture and share significant human events.


  • LaToniya A. Jones

    The details outlined in the story definitely cause you to reflect on credible/trusted sources, cross checking those references (as you mentioned with the various apps), and the value of social media in a traditional news source world. I wonder how many people jumped on the rumor mill of RT’ing before accurately checking their sources –in their need to be “one of the first to spread the message”. We will add this to our Tech Summit discussion tonight!

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  • becky

    she was and will always be a great singer she had a beautiful and wonderful voice and when she sang she told the truth in her songs i will always remeber her and she will always be loved by us all

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