Will one tweet ever change the world?

Sometimes, you know you’re seeing history in the making in a few video frames. Recently, there’s been a bit too much of it happening.

I watched in awe as the US Senate refused Bush his bailout money – the split-screen showed the politicians’ verdict and the resultant stock market crash like a horrendous parody of the loved-up Woodstock film. Politics and economics have seldom circumvented society so readily.

Likewise two more US-related events. Am I alone in thinking that footage of the majestic rise of Apollo 11 (on YouTube, specifically from 2:05 onwards) is retold in terrible rewind by the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11? The one signalled the USA’s victory over Russia in the race to space, and pre-empted the end of the cold war. The other was a truly apocalyptic event that began the never-ending War on Terror.

A few frames. They really can change the world. So I wonder – and I’m only being slightly trite here – whether a tweet could ever change the world?

You can say ‘no’, now. But consider what are the greatest tweets out there? Are there any tweets that could have been, but weren’t? Or any that were but shouldn’t? And, finally, have any of them had particular resonance or impact?

Tweets that should have been

Today – and this was the ‘seed’ for this post – I read about Cerys Matthews in Guardian G2 (yes I’m a Guardian reader, can’t you tell by my appalling avatar?). She of the ability to render an audience speechless by a single thrust of the hips has come out with possibly the greatest non-tweet ever.

When asked what her epitaph would be, she responded: “Gravestones are like Twitter – you need something short that will amuse people.”

Brilliant. Maybe tweets are like gravestones? And, while she said she didn’t know what her epitaph would be, she’d inadvertently come up with a perfect epitaph. Imagine in a hundred years or so people reading it and saying “What’s this Twitter she’s on about?”

Tweets that were but are no more

Politicians should tweet more. I know about Downing Street’s twitterfeed but I couldn’t find a definitive list of political tweeters.

Maybe they don’t for this reason: In an off the record interview with CNBC, an ABC reporter, Terry Moran tweeted: “Pres. Obama just called Kanye West a “jackass” for his outburst at VMAs when Taylor Swift won. Now THAT’S presidential.”

Great! Hang about. Not great. The post was immediately deleted. But, as GadgetSteria points out, all tweets are cached. Never forget, the web holds everything you ever post, in perpetuity. This is both a blessing – as we shall see – and a curse.

Tweets that were and still are

The greatest tweet I ever saw, I swear is the one that set off the whole Twitter obsession.

Until Mike Wilson tweeted “Holy fucking shit I wasbjust [sic] in a plane crash!”, no one had really paid much attention to Twitter. Then The Guardian (sorry, I really do read it every day) wrote about how he’d tweeted in the immediate aftermath of a plane crash. Most people would have thought of exiting directly. Not Mike. He tweeted. Something was very wrong here. Or maybe right?

You can still see his tweet here. That’s what I meant about it sometimes being a blessing. From that one tweet, an entire scene of chaos emerges.

Then, the next thing I knew, Twitter was everywhere.

Tweets that should be famous

Consider this tweet:

“Mrs. Liebowitz’s cat has gone missing again. He answers to ‘Martin’ and walks with an unfortunate limp. This was only partially my fault.”

No? Doesn’t do it for you?

Then consider this: it was tweeted by Christopher Walken. Suddenly a seemingly innocuous tweet assumes an aura of menace. Why the limp? Whither the cat?

Why only ‘partially’ his fault?

Tweets that are famous

In my albeit brief research for this post I found that other blogs had got there first.

So, check these out:

But none have changed the world

Did Michael Jackson’s death change the world? No. But Michael Jackon’s death did slow the web down. And there is still debate about who tweeted his death first.


Twitter is becoming our first resource when we want to know what’s happening now. That’s not just their strapline, it really is true. When Google Calendar went down recently, my first reaction was to see if other people were tweeting about it. They were. Then again, when it went down again. Then again when GMail went down.

Bad news for Google, but great for Twitter, especially as it was able to stay up while the world was tweeting about Google being down.

So I wonder: one day, will something truly earth-shaking ever be tweeted first? Will a new epoch come about because someone tweeted it? Will Twitter ever change the world?

Maybe it already has, in the aggregation of what we say – everything, all the time. But one day, whether through a mobile phone somewhere in the Tora Bora mountains, or a tweet from the first human being to set foot on Mars, maybe everything will change at one time.

What do you think?

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