By Mike Welsh
A few months ago the all powerful blue bird of social network tried to kill off Nelson Mandela.
It didn’t intend to it just happened. Such is the nature of Social Media.
If reports of Mark Twain’s death had been “grossly exaggerated” in the New York Journal back in June of 1897: ..Mandela’s “reported” demise on Twitter mid last September was massive. The twitter sphere was abuzz with “Nelson Mandela RIP” tweets. Countless tweeters/twitterers/twats, some, like the little birdie itself, hadn’t even been hatched by the time the Nobel Laureate and peace campaigner was released from 27 years of incarceration at Robben Island, cavalierly tweeted and retweeted the “news” of the death of one of the greatest humans of the past century. Too soon, way too soon as it turned out. Not a hoax, more of an out of control bushfire.
And control is the key. How is Twitter apparently able to “off” a celebrity every now and then? Is it Social media’s ethereal method of reminding them of their mortality? Twitter’s famous scalps in its short but impressive flight include, Adam Sandler, Robert Paterson, Taylor Swift and even Jackie Chan. Most users though were sufficiently savvy to quickly apply the “hoax lens”. The imperative, it seems, is “we must know and let others know the very instant a famous person leaves the planet. The more famous the departed the greater urgency it takes on. Presumably Twitter can live with a few errors which will inevitably pop up in the frantic process.
The reality …Twitter’s “error” of having the anti-apartheid icon gone was taken as gospel by millions. For the record, and for those who take Twitter as gospel, social media didn’t kill Nelson Mandela; he died from complications of a lung infection in Johannesburg on Dec 6.
Once upon a time, back in the deep, dark, olden days, a very beautiful and extremely famous Princess was tragically killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel. Bits and pieces of the accident in which Princess Diana died dribbled out via old media over the following hours. One report 3 hours after the people’s princess died still had her “walking unassisted from the wreck”. Could Twitter have instantly corrected this awful mistake within seconds? Or would the “out of control bushfire” just spread the “error” over a vastly wider audience? Even further back in the mists of time, Saturday the 22nd of October, 1963 to be exact, a 9 year old paperboy sold three times the number of newspapers he usually sold, on the night following the day JFK was shot in Dallas. If social media had been up and running then, would people still have wanted their hard copy of the Examiner Express newspaper a full 8 hours news of the event broke? Thankfully for my pocket they did.
Traditional media now relies heavily on social media to get the tip off. Facts and fairness are forsaken due to the pressure. But if knowing everything and knowing it now comes at a cost, is it just a small price to pay?. And who would notice?
The twitter storm which erupted around allegations of sexual assault involving Australian born entertainer, Rolf Harris, is another prime example of social media bursting the dam wall and flooding a salivating space with all manner of ill-informed chatter, as fact. While newspapers remained eerily mum on the looming scandal involving the Portrait painter to the Palace…twitter was full of condemnation, disbelief and unfunny gags about “Jake The Peg” and “Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport”. Long before the Wobble board virtuoso had even entered a court of law millions had made up their mind.Funny old thing fame. It makes for strange bedfellows. Shortly after the world’s best known political prisoner did pass on, aged 95, a few very famous folk became victims of “Hacking”a new form of fraud. An hotel heiress, whose fame continues to fester thanks to social media, ”reportedly” tweeted “RIP Nelson Mandela. Your ‘I Have A Dream’ speech was so inspiring. Amazing man.” The tweet suggested that Ms Hilton confused Nelson Mandela for Martin Luther King, who delivered the famous “Dream” speech in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Hoax yes but way too late. It was retweeted 15,000 times before a little birdie alerted the 32-year-old blonde.Another famous fellow, Kanye West, himself “reportedly” killed off by the twitter sphere, was “reportedly” dissing Nelson Mandela.
An online site, the Daily Currant, described as “The Global Satirical Newspaper of Record” ran with these Kanye “quotes” “Mandela was working in South Africa, which has, like what, six people? I started my magic here in the USA and then I took my business global” and “I liberate minds with my music. That’s more important than liberating a few people from apartheid or whatever.” Hoax yes, but too late, way too late. Millions swallowed it.
The irony dripping from the filthy and threatening tweets condemning the opportunistic Hilton and Kanye scammers and hoaxers is, that at the heart of all this, there was a man who genuinely wanted peace and harmony in his part of the world and did something tangible to bring it about.
While flags continue to be lowered around the world out of respect for Mandela it’s worth a thought about Twitter having a Half- Mast setting.