Patrick Swayze Lives, but Twitter fails

“The intelligence of the creature known as a crowd, is the square root of the number of people in it.”
- Terry Pratchett

Patrick Swayze has been fighting Pancreatic Cancer for months, struggling with chemotherapy and treatments for more than a year. He has also be fighting against tabloids and rumor mags, which have all run articles discussing how much weight he has lost and how close he is to death.

However, none of them have accidentally claimed he died. It took the idiocy of a single radio DJ and the crowd mentality of Twitter to proclaim the still living Swayze as dead.

It seems that after a radio DJ in Florida incorrectly pronounced Swayze's death this morning, the news spread like fire through the Twitterverse, soon becoming a trending topic and necessitating Swayze's publicist to come forward and clarify that he is, in fact, alive.

Admittedly, while it appears it was a convential news source and a professional news employee who failed first in this regards - it was an isolated incident that did not spread throughout the news services or even blogs. At news organizations and blogs, editors and authors took responsibility for finding out the facts before repeating errors and perpetuating rumor. Unfortunately, neither responsiblity nor fear of libel seems to have any impact on Twitter users.

In the past several months there has been great emphasis placed on the intelligence and dexterity of the crowd behind Twitter. Much of the focus has been placed on Twitter trends and search as a way to understand news and ideas faster than news outlets or even Google can provide. In some ways and some areas, this is correct and a new, fascinating tool. The first reports and photos from the plane crash into the Hudson river came from mobile Twitter users, a boon for citizen journalism. I have begun using a GreaseMonkey script to add twitter results to my Google results to add to the bredth of my results.

But at the same time that power of Twitter can be understood as an immense network of intelligent and connected individuals, Twitter is also a mob. A mob has no ability or desire to take responsiblity for it's action, nor are there any checks or rational moments to verify that the corredct course of action is being taken. Twitter is and will remain immensely powerful, a tool to see into the online psyche at a moment's notice. But we cannot forget that the psyche we are appearing to is the dumb, irresponsible mind of a crowd.