Home > E2.0 > What if Orson Welles used Twitter?

What if Orson Welles used Twitter?

(Originally posted on InformationZen by George Parapadakis on July 10, 2009 )

A scary Friday thought, but with a hint or reality thrown in…

A lot of people will be familiar with the famous War of the Worlds radio hoax story: In 1938, Orson Welles presented a Halloween spoof alien invasion story on CBS radio. The story was so believable that widespread panic ensued.

“The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast was presented as a series of simulated news bulletins, which suggested to many listeners that an actual Martian invasion was in progress […] The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast” (Wikipedia)

In 1938, pre-TV era, radio was the most immediate medium for communicating information to people. People trusted the radio and in particular they trusted the News bulletins. In a way, Welles hijacked (abused, if you like) that trust. People reacted to snippets of unconfirmed information, because they implicitly trusted its source. The resulting panic was not the only effect. The trustworthiness of real news sources was questioned. A host of conspiracy theories followed. The same play was adapted and reused in other geographies, causing similar panic and even resulting in deaths.

Roll forward 70 years or so… The most immediate broadcast medium today, is Twitter. Based on 140-character snippets of unconfirmed information. Delivered straight to your mobile/cell phone, wherever you are. What if the BBC or Time or CNN (or anyone spoofing as them) were to broadcast an Orson Welles equivalent hoax. And the world re-tweets, seconds later…. What would today’s reaction be?

Would people panic? That means that people are trusting their social media sources as much as they trusted the radio in 1938. And twitter is a dangerous place to be!

Would they wait and double check their sources? If so, it means we are inherently NOT trusting the information we get from twitter. Which then questions the value of the medium.

Are we any more savvy today than people were in 1938? We would like to think so. But the thousands of people that daily fall victim to email and phone and get-rich-fast scams (and the proliferation of these scams) does not substantiate that belief… Fortunately or unfortunately, people are generally more naive than paranoid.

Have a good weekend! – George

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