The REAL story behind the 104-Year-Old who joined Twitter

Dear reader, TechCrunch owes you an apology. We thought the “104-Year-Old joins Twitter” story last week was Digg bait created by the media. It turns out it was all just old fashioned re-hashed PR. But at least we are apologising – unlike the many news outlets that ran with this manufactured story.

To explain…

On May 15 two UK newspapers ran the story about 104 year old woman “Ivy Bean” / @ivybean104 joining Twitter. Both The Daily Telegraph and The Sun ran with the story, which was followed up and “celebrated” by The Next Web blog.

What none of these stories told you, however, was that poor old Ivy had not joined Twitter just because it was suddenly the talk of the old peoples home. No. She joined because home PC maintenance company Geek Squad signed her up, propped her up for a photo opportunity and press-released the hell out of it. And frankly I hope they paid her, or at least donated to her favourite charity because this is one of the most self-serving, cynical PR stunts I can remember.

And to prove it, here’s the pictures all the news outlets ran (when they all have the same picture, it’s a sure sign it’s a press release). Is that a Geek Squad guy just behind her head?:

And here’s the incriminating Twitpic, clearly taken by Geek Squad of their man Martin Dix, hovering behind Ivy, having just signed her in to Twitter and presumably explained the service. (Dix also blogs for Geek Squad). It was even taken on Ivy’s own Twitpic account and frankly I seriously doubt she knew what was going on.

Note also that her first ever Tweet is clearly related to the PR shenanigans going on around her:

“I’m enjoying Twitter for the first time and having my photo taken.”

Now, she Tweeted that Tweet at “10:02 AM May 14th from web”. That’s important, because this was only one day before the story went live on the Sun, and Telegraph site at 8:20am May 15. In other words, cynical Geek Squad had already targeted Ivy as being the oldest person they could find and convince to go on Twitter. The fact it was a day before the story went live speaks volumes.

Ivy also Tweeted:

“I’m on Twitter! Come and follow my feed at IvyBean104.”

Since when did a 104 year old suddenly start using words like “feed”?

In fact, only The Sun newspaper actually indicated that this might all be PR-nonsense cooked up by Geek Squad, referring to its “Silver Surfers’ Day” campaign to “encourage more elderly people to get online”. Classic PR-guff.

However, TechCrunch’s (and here’s our apology) MG Seigler decided this whole thing was a ruse to get The Telegraph onto Digg. And admittedly, The Telegraph has been gaining a reputation for using Digg quite substantially lately. It gets a lot of traffic from social sites, and the UK press has a sneaking suspicion Tele sub editors have all taken courses in headline writing for Digg.

However, we’re happy to point out that the story wasn’t just cooked up by the Telegraph to get onto Digg – but lots of journalists and bloggers fell for Geek Squad’s PR.

Compounding the issue however is The Next Web which seems to think TechCrunch’s non-scoop was itself an attempt to get on Digg – and predictibly did a post on it in a slightly bizarre tirade. Clearly, The Next Web did not realise it was a Geek Squad press release the first time round and still hasn’t. They sign off their story with “This is clearly not a completely fabricated story.” Instead it attacks TechCrunch for not celebrating the fact a 104 year old is on Twitter, a story which “made people smile”.

Come again? Since when were independent bloggers supposed to just celebrate things – instead of getting the facts right?

My view is that WHERE stories come from is at least as important as what they are about. I hope we can all learn from this episode. In the race to feverishly post about Twitter, sometimes the facts are starting to get lost in the hype.

Oh, and to complete this ridiculous circle, feel free to Digg this post.

Update: As commenters below point out, Ivy was two years ago signed up to Facebook by her care home to be the “oldest person on Facebook”, presumably after they were incensed that a 97-year old French youngster had laid claim to the title. I look forward to the day Ivy is signed up by Digg as their “oldest user” and to her actually getting something out of being used in this way, simply because of her age.

Update II: A few people have inferred that I think @ivybean104 is actually fake – that she’s not tweeting herself. Frankly unless someone videos her doing it it’s going to be hard to absolutely verify, though her Tweetstream (e.g. “just had my tea now its a game of dominos with my friends”) looks plausible. What is slightly odd however is the fact she is following 94 people, many of whom, like @barclayjen in Columbia, SC, (Geek Squad was the first account she followed btw) she is unlikely to know personally. Unless 104 year olds are a lot more socially networked than I previously thought…