Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twitter During a Crisis

A friend sent me the article by Shel Holz about the role Twitter played during the Mumbai terrorist attacks. I've read other postings in response to the request by the Indian government people to stop twittering information that the terrorists could use.

I read pieces about the role Twitter and other digital media played in the Mumbai events. I think Twitter's role was greatly exaggerated . The terrorists had cellphones and apparently collaborators outside feeding them news. They also had access to cable television which would have provided much better info than Twitter could.

I can remember during the first Gulf War that the info CNN covered would have been great for the other side. I kept thinking that we viewers did not need to know the info so fast, particularly if it puts soldiers' lives at risk. So reporters have clearly been stupid and careless in what they covered. Now citizen journalism, such as via Twitter, extends the range of stupidity. I think the solution is that if there is a crisis or police/military action - the authorities need to create a wide berth where no one can enter. They also probably need to have someone there continuously telling people to stop reporting events. But professional and citizen journalists also need to accept responsibility - and have some brains - to not report info that can be used against an innocent victim.

As for companies learning from this, they should - but most probably won't. All companies should pay for professional media monitoring. If they can't afford it, there are a lot of tools for free that make it easy to track all this. I'm constantly surprised at how companies can only wrap their heads around traditional media and miss the firestorms occurring online to the great detriment of their company. Foolish businessmen that claim to be motivated by profit, but are often scaredy-cats afraid to admit they don't know something and will let their company suffer as a result.

I actually found out about the terrorist attacks via Twitter at least an hour or two before conventional media covered the story. In fact, I think it is standard now that for breaking news items, digital media, particularly as covered by citizen journalists, gets the story much faster. As one who was getting ready to leave for Mumbai that day, I really appreciated the advanced notice - it let me assess the situation and adjust plans accordingly. There are clearly advantages to such speedy news coverage, but there are also considerations for businesses, police, conventional media, users, and citizen journalists to all learn, adapt and behave responsibly in this new real-time reality.

No comments: