Secrets in the Twitter Age

"Rien ne pèse tant que un secret."

That's what La Fontaine said. For Luddite Americans like me, it means, "Nothing weighs more than a secret."

On the theory that a picture is worth a thousand French quotes, take a look at the illustration to the left. That is a graphical representation of how Twitter broke the Bin Laden story before President Obama did.

Someone leaked to Donald Rumsfeld's former Chief of Staff. He tweeted the news. It was re-tweeted 80 times in one minute and generated 300 reactions in three minutes. When a New York Times reporter came across the information in the Twittersphere, he re-tweeted to his 50,000 followers and the cat was well and truly out of the bag.

The author Robert Galbraith's secret identity had an even more direct route to fame. An anonymous source tweeted a columnist at the Sunday Times of London, and on July 14, the Times revealed Robert Galbraith was actually J.K. Rowling, formerly of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Where did the source come by such a juicy secret? Was it the publisher trying to generate buzz? Was it Rowling herself, trying to sell books? No. The leak came from someone who was actually being paid not to talk.

The source was the best friend of the wife of a partner at J.K. Rowling's law firm.

Sure, secrets are heavy. And sure, J.K. Rowling's pseudonym is a GREAT secret. But good heavens, secrets ought to be a little lighter if you're actually being paid to carry them.

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