Twittering a Tragedy

Posted on October 28, 2008 by Tony Uphoff

The tragic acts of violence this week in Mumbai India were a sobering reminder of the shock and horror of global terrorism. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of everyone at TechWeb, are with our colleagues at UBM in India and everyone who was affected by this senseless tragedy. The news on these horrific events also illuminated the growing pains that social media is going through as a means of getting accurate information during crisis coverage.

Immediately after the first attack people started posting news, updates and information to Twitter and other social networks. These updates came from multiple spots in Mumbai as well as from afar as people offered their thoughts and prayers. As a reader it was difficult to tell the difference. For the most part the posts lacked context so trying to get a sense of the "who, what, where, when and why" was difficult if not impossible. As my colleague Alex Wolfe noted in his blog post "Twitter in Controversial Spotlight Amid Mumbai Attacks" so much data was created but with limited insight or perspective. There were also some posts that appeared to be giving sensitive information about real time police activity in response to the attacks. The Mumbai authorities took the extraordinary measure of Tweeting, asking people to stop providing updates on sensitive information.

There is no question that applications like Twitter have irrevocably changed the media landscape. Like all applications however the power of the technology can overwhelm the value if there is no discernment between data and information. There have already been stories criticizing the journalistic virtue of Twitter and other social media, used by the general public. My take is the social media coverage of the Mumbai attacks will serve as a tipping point in the debate on "responsible journalism" versus "personal journalism". The reality is traditional journalism has gone through similar growing pains as new technologies allowed for real time coverage, that in some cases turned out to be flawed in hind sight. Perhaps this is a coming of age moment for social media and our use of it as a means of accurate and responsible communication.,

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