Titanic 100th anniversary: If the Titanic sank today, how would the news break on social media?

Titanic's Passengers All Rescued -- The Syracuse Herald

100 years ago, the Syracuse Herald and many other newspapers around the world mistakenly printed reports that all the RMS Titanic's passengers had been saved. In reality, 1,514 people died when the 'unsinkable' ship hit an iceberg and there were far less lifeboats than could hold its 2,223 passengers.

“Breaking News” and “Newsflash” are almost completely outdated terms in the world of social media, yet “old media” like newspapers, television and radio stations, still use them. They’ll even use the term when someone else has broken the news and it’s all over Twitter and Facebook, hours earlier. Sometimes it’s a result of which sources have the better credibility or a bigger audience — if the Pleasantville Daily News “breaks” something to its 98 followers, then it’s fair to say CNN is actually breaking the news to most people when they pick up the story.

Ultimately, though, the desire to be FIRST! in breaking a story is no longer just a traditional media problem. Even Joe Schmo can “break” a story to his 254 Tumblr subscribers if he posts it early enough, which is why news breaks today on the Internet in confusing yet fascinating ways.

On the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, I wonder how the news on April 15, 1912, would have been covered on social media.

Here’s a few possible tweets that could’ve occurred:

  • @FanOfSeaStuff: “Just heard over the radio that the Titanic hit something.”
  • @RoseDawson: “I could not be any happier than where I am right now.” (Sent using the ship’s wi-fi before the rising water took it out.)
  • @NewsGuy04121912: “Reports coming in that the Titanic has hit something — could be an iceberg or a whale — but all passengers are okay.”
  • @KateWinsletFan: “Don’t believe the reports the Titanic hit anything. Just look: RT @RoseDawson I could not be any happier than where I am right now.”
  • @CNNBRK: “BREAKING NEWS: RMS Titanic has hit a large object, believed to be an iceberg, and is taking on water.” (retweeted 1087 times)
  • @DudeNamedDude: “I heard from @NewsGuy0412912 that a whale hit the Titanic. Bet he’s looking to make a nice snack out of some passengers.”
  • @FoxNews: “NEWSFLASH: The ‘unsinkable’ ship RMS Titanic is sinking on the Atlantic; passengers being taken to lifeboats.”
  • @NYTimes: “White Star Line confirms the Titanic ocean liner has been hit by an iceberg and boats are headed to rescue its passengers.”
  • @HersheyChocoholic: “Tweeps, don’t worry about the Titanic — @FoxNews says passengers are being taken to lifeboats.”
  • @TMZ: “Inside sources tell us someone yelled ‘women and children first!’ as the Titanic began rescuing passengers.”
  • @ReporterGuy: “Coast Guard reporting Titanic ship is slowly sinking as passengers fill the lifeboats.”
  • @MotionPictureGirl: “Someday this’ll be a movie, and they’ll probably make the Titanic sinking WAAAY more dramatic with cheesy music.”

Eventually, the true story would emerge, but as the news breaks there’s all sorts of conflicting opinions and reactions that confuse the world wide web. Even before social media, inaccurate reports happened all the time. The Syracuse Herald newspaper first ran a front page headline that said “Titanic’s Passengers All Rescued” with a dramatic telling of how they were all taken to lifeboats.

Apparently, what happened was: A wireless message went out stating ‘All Titanic’s Passengers Safe.’ A week later it was discovered that this message had been wrongly received in the confusion of messages flashing through the air. In reality the message should have read ‘Are All Titanic’s Passengers Safe?'” Can you imagine THAT going viral on social media? Reporters would lose their jobs and Mashable readers would lose their minds (because Mashable would’ve written a story about it, too, in an effort to get SEO traffic even though they claim they focus only on web/technology news).

While many of us (including Titanic director James Cameron) are shocked that some audiences are just now finding out that Titanic was real and not just a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, can you imagine if the Titanic sank today how it would be covered on social media? Ponder that the next time you see “Breaking News” somewhere on the Internet, and think before you tweet.

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