Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Twitter Didn’t Kill Gordon Lightfoot. Big Media Did.

The Internet killed yet another celebrity before his time yesterday. This time, it was poor old folkie Gordon Lightfoot, who, of course, is not dead, merely befuddled.

So are a lot of reports about the reports of his death, which pin the blame on Twitter. Or in the case of the New York Daily News, something called a “Twitter blogging service.”

The original rumor that Lightfoot was dead may or may not have originated on Twitter–his road manager seems to think it was via “a Twitter coming out of Ottawa.” But that seems both very specific and hard to prove. If anyone can, please let me know.

But say it is true. Twitter still didn’t force Canwest, the big Canadian media conglomerate, to publish a wire report that said the singer was dead. As best I can tell, it was that story, which was picked up by various Canwest newspaper sites, that convinced people Lightfoot had croaked.

Here’s Canwest’s description of what happened:

After false rumours of Lightfoot’s death initially emerged online, Hawkins [musician Ronnie Hawkins, a friend of Lightfoot] was contacted by a Canwest reporter. In that interview, Hawkins reported that Lightfoot was dead. Based on that information, Canwest News Service sent out an alert and short story on the wire which reported Lightfoot’s death. Within minutes, Canwest was contacted by a representative close to Lightfoot who said that news of his demise was untrue. That prompted another alert on the wire which said the previous story should be disregarded because there were conflicting accounts about Lightfoot’s health.

About 30 minutes later, Canwest spoke to Lightfoot’s tour manager, [Bernie] Fiedler, and immediately moved another story on the wire reporting the singer’s death was a hoax.

In Twitter time, 30 minutes is forever, of course. And it was the first Canwest story and alert, which were indeed distributed via Twitter, that really fueled this thing. But blaming Twitter for quickly spreading a mainstream news organization’s story is a stretch.

Here’s some pithy perspective from Doug Saunders, a Canadian journalist who doesn’t work for Canwest. It comes to us via Twitter, naturally:

If a media snafu causes you to debate the role of Twitter, imagine it’s 90 years ago and instead of Twitter you’re saying “the telephone… Hearing some rumour and printing it as truth is unrelated to tech used to circulate that rumour. Same happened, faster, in 1780s.

If you’re itching to confirm Lightfoot’s health yourself, you can listen to an impromptu interview the singer conducted yesterday with a Toronto radio station. And I hope to see him make a Goldblumesque appearance on “The Colbert Report” very soon.

Until then, here’s the obligatory blast from the past:


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik