Why We Owe A Debt of Gratitude to Twitter For Its Coverage of the Fabrice Muamba Story

Twitter showed this weekend how powerful of a communication tool it is after Bolton midfielder Fabrice Muamba collapsed on the pitch from a heart attack in the FA Cup match against Tottenham Hotspur. Concerned soccer fans converged on Twitter to share the latest breaking news as well as messages of support from around the globe. For many of us, it was the first place we went to, to find out what was going on and to also feel connected to what was going on — sharing our heartfelt prayers and gasping at the terrible scenes many of us had witnessed either in person or on television.

For those of us who were watching television in the United States on Saturday after Muamba collapsed, Twitter was an even more valuable source for up-to-the-minute information on what was happening. FOX Soccer admirably stayed with the broadcast of the Tottenham against Bolton match until we learned that the game had been abandoned. Keith Costigan then signed off the broadcast by saying “Our thoughts and prayers are with Fabrice Muamba.” But the story wasn’t over. It was only just beginning.

For the next hour or more, many of us were glued to Twitter to find out the latest updates. Was Muamba going to survive?

In the United States, our options outside of Twitter were extremely limited. After FOX Soccer showed an EPL Preview Show as filler until the scheduled Serie A match kicked off, I looked into other options for news sources. BBC Radio Five Live was broadcasting the latest news and updates on what was happening. However, for listeners in the United States, the broadcast was blocked due to rights restrictions because the radio broadcast was supposed to be airing a rugby union game. On the web, the best source of information I found was The Guardian’s minute-by-minute commentary of the match, which had turned into a minute-by-minute update on the latest Muamba news. Reporter Rob Smyth dutifully updated us the latest updates he heard from ESPN, BBC and Sky.

Shortly afterwards, FOX Soccer began running a crawl across the bottom of the screen updating viewers that the Spurs-Bolton match had been abandoned due to Muamba collapsing on the pitch. FOX advised viewers to turn to Sky Sports News, FOX Soccer Report and FOXSoccer.com for updates. However, these avenues were woefully lacking. FOX Soccer Report wasn’t scheduled to be on-air for several hours. The only way we can legally watch Sky Sports News in the United States is when FOX Soccer decides to simulcast it, which they decided not to do. And FOXSoccer.com had a wire story as the main piece about Muamba which had a very brief report of what had happened.

What was quite odd, but seemingly an oversight, is that FOX Soccer didn’t promote its Twitter feed @FOXSoccer, where FOX was most timely with news updates.

Not surprisingly, again, Twitter continued to be our main source of news. Even after the rights restriction announcement was removed from the BBC Radio Five Live broadcast so that US listeners could tune in to live coverage, Twitter was reporting the news far more quickly than live radio was. After I learned around 4:15pm ET through Sky News that the hospital was reporting that Muamba was in a stable condition at the hospital, I tweeted the news, took a deep sigh of relief but then continued to stay with the BBC Radio Five Live broadcast to find out when they would report that Muamba was OK. After five to 10 minutes of listening and without the news being reported by the Beeb, I gave up and went back to Twitter as my main news source.

No one can predict when incidents like these will happen, but when they do, Twitter almost always becomes the premier source of information. The micro-blogging platform has an incredible amount of advantages over traditional media. It doesn’t have a lag time of a journalist or TV reporter interpreting the news, and then preparing it for broadcast (either by writing the story, or getting the camera crew ready to broadcast the update). Plus, Twitter has over 300 million users with far more varied news sources who are pouring updates into the news stream.

Throughout the season, no matter where we live in the world, we feel so much more connected to what is happening in and around soccer in the United Kingdom. Viewers in the United States get to see far more live coverage of English football than do Englishmen themselves. But on days like Saturday where the news goes beyond the referee’s whistle, we’re back to being in a no-mans land, cut off from the direct news sources such as Sky Sports News. Thankfully, Twitter bridges the gap and brings us all together. Without Twitter, the coverage of the Fabrice Muamba news story would have been an entirely different experience for all of us who live outside the United Kingdom. Twitter’s news coverage is something that Internet giants Facebook, Google or Microsoft can’t even come close to replicating.

Needless to say, we continue to hope and pray for Fabrice Muamba’s improved health. I’m proud of the way that the soccer community has rallied around to show support for a talented 23-year-old midfielder. Thanks to Twitter, I think most of us can say that we feel closer to the news.

21 thoughts on “Why We Owe A Debt of Gratitude to Twitter For Its Coverage of the Fabrice Muamba Story”

  1. While I don’t use Twitter at all, possibly because of Joey Barton, I do like how you took a different look to this story. What impressed me the most about this whole tragedy is the way the other 19 clubs have responded. Good on them for publicly showing support and postponing matches for Boltons sake.

  2. Enh… I think you overrate twitter. One need not have taken one glance at twitter to have known what had happened.

    1. Playing devil’s advocate though Lyle, how would someone find out what was happening up-to-the-minute regarding whether Muamba was alive or not after the incident happened and after FOX Soccer ended the broadcast?

      What other source of information, that was available to us in the States, was reporting on the minute-by-minute news?

      The Gaffer

      1. I guess another question, playing a different devil’s advocate, would be: do we really need minute-by-minute (or even second-by-second) news on any given subject? What do we lose if we don’t?

      2. I guess if you need a minute-by-minute relay of information (good, bad, and ugly information – gossip even) of an event… twitter is one way to follow something. Perhaps the only way from afar… unless someone is blogging it live, which is one way of saying more than you can via twitter.

        I didn’t need to follow this happening minute-by-minute. I could turn on the TV or go to a website and someone would be reporting that Muamba was in hospital or had died. What else did I need to know?

        1. I think we’re talking about two different things. The first is breaking news. The second, which is what you’re talking about, is news. The article was in reference to how Twitter helped communicate what was happening as it was breaking.

          Both are completely different even though it’s covering the same topic.

          The Gaffer

          1. I get it for those in the business of news. I’m not part of it, so it’s much less important. I didn’t need to follow the event so intensely. BBC or the Guardian would have let me know at some point.

            The other problem is how do you verify tweets before communicating the tweet to people?

            1. Good question about verifying the tweets. When I RT information, it’s only from reliable sources that I know and trust.

              The Gaffer

  3. Without realizing it myself initially you have this one completely correct. I constantly went to Twitter and found online news sources very lacking. I hadn’t really thought about it until I saw this article.

    I think many misunderstand twitter. It’s not a place to go read what your buddy is having for breakfast, if you have a good list of people to follow then you are always getting the MOST up to date news and opinion.

    Now there is a danger, there was the guy posting racist stuff and reports going around yesterday that he had died, you have to be smart about what you read and who the source is.

    I don’t understand Lyle’s post at all. No one is saying we didn’t know what happened, what we wanted was more updates and as fast as possible.

      1. I frequently went for updates, for about 2 hours there was nothing on news sites beyond “Muama collapses during game” Twitter had numerous updates from players about how we was doing.

        Does that answer the question ?

  4. I’ve always thought of twitter as a place for the famous and not so famous to talk about what they did that day, more a less a celebrity gossip magazine. I could be wrong but I can’t say twitter has ever appealed to me.

    1. You are wrong. Follow quality journalists and other interesting people and it’s a fantastic time filler. I check in every now and then and I’m always learning some new news or linking to an interesting story.

  5. If you utilize twitter correctly (as the Gaffer points out), it’s a great source of information, especially in real time.

    How you utilize it depends entirely on you. You can built out lists (news sources, football bloggers, etc.) to curate your information to your liking.

    Or you can follow celebrity gossip.

    Like most new media, it’s almost entirely up to you how you choose to consume the medium.

  6. I have no ill will toward anyone. Personally I just wanted him off the field and the game to continue. Maybe in my formal line of work I build a thick skin for stuff like this. I knew the professionals would take care of the player and the other professionals needed to get on the field and finish the game. I doubt I was alone.

    1. joejoe, you may be the only person that felt that way that I know. There was no way that the match could or should have continued. The players and fans were emotionally distraught after they saw what happened. To continue playing the game would have been inhumane especially given the question mark whether Muamba would have lived or died.

      The Gaffer

    2. Wow…I am an atheist and generally can be a pretty cold person, but joejoe for the win! Cripes man…the guy had a heart attack and almost died!!! I’m pretty sure you’re alone on this one.

  7. We have international followers on Twitter who follow our EPL tweets. Many have no access to UK televison and news. Our Twitter reports and the tweets of our followers who were at the match from both Bolton and Spurs were a fantastic way for them to be properly informed about events in real time.

    Just as with the plane crash in the Hudson river in New York a couple of years ago, Twitter has proven to be the quickest way to bring a breaking story to an international audience.


  8. Meh…we don’t owe Twitter anything. I use Twitter but keep it in perspective. If this happened in the pre-internet era Muamba’s home and hospital room would be flooded with cards and letters. Unfortunately today most will simply re-tweet some short message.

    Looking back there was nothing reported that wouln’t have been just as effective w/ radio and print in the 30’s. Muamba collapsed on the field and was rushed to the hospital (radio), Muamba is at the hospital in the ICU (radio), Muamba remains in serious condition but is stabile (radio and newspaper).

    I absolutely love the internet, DirecTV, Fox Soccer, etc but we don’t owe Twiiter, Facebook, etc anything…we are doing them a favor by using their service so they can make money!

  9. For all the connectivity Twitter supposedly offers, it offers no genuine connections at all. Everything is passive. You send out a “tweet” into the universe with no idea or clue that anyone will answer. You have no idea if anyone heard you. You have no indication that anyone cares. It’s just a fire hose of the pointless flotsam and jetsam of cultural minutia and lifestyle effluvium, delivered in a lightly distracting, OM NOM NOM-style all-you-can-eat infotainment/ego-casting stream to whatever millennial-enabled wireless device you’re willing to hook into it. It’s like talking to yourself out loud, on the bus. And it offers just about the same amount of useful feedback. If Twitter is the future of online communication, or the future of blogging and/or journalism: I’m out. I want the communication I spend my ever-decreasing amount of free time on to be richer, clearer; not constrained by arbitrary limitations based on the maximum length of SMS text messages.

    1. I don’t think you are following the right people. You make a tweet and people respond or retweet, that’s pretty good feedback. I’ve been momentarily happy when I get a response from some top line journo or famous person. I can claim to have chatted with Rio Ferdinand (as can many people LOL)

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