Friday, November 28, 2008

Twitter Provides a Valuable Window onto Mumbai Massacre

Amidst all the shock and horror on this Thanksgiving, about the massacre and ongoing crisis in Mumbai, there was this, from John Ribeiro, and something similar on many news services -

Micro-blogging site Twitter is also being used to pass on information, or to just express feelings about the terrorist attack, and sometimes about the inadequate coverage of the crises by some Indian TV channels...

Just as students sent email from the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, letting the world and the mass media know what was happening, so Twitter and Facebook are providing some windows into what has been happening in Mumbai the past two days.

The new social media can't stop these atrocities, but they can stand as unique witness to the individual, human dimensions of what we see on television. These are some of the Tweets I noticed, just seconds apart, when I went back to Twitter a few hours after I first wrote this blog: "Indian officials are big on bulllshit, weak on results" ... "What guns are our commandos using???" ... "100 trapped at Trident" ... "this whole thing stinks, our govt have left us as sitting ducks, throw UPA out" ... "Japan had terrorist strike in past, China is blessed to have neighbors like us, we are not that fortunate". Twitter advised that 216 new Tweets on this subject had come in the 30 seconds it took me to capture the above Tweets. Of course, there is no guarantee that those microblogs all came from Mumbai – though, Twitter would have a record of the IP addresses.

But, no system is perfect. As Stephanie Busari pointed out on, "Someone tweets a news headline, their friends see it and retweet, prompting an endless circle of recycled information" on Twitter. And social media such as Twitter could have been used by the terrorists in planning and coordination of their attacks (a US Army Report in October expressed concern about this possible use of Twitter).

But in a world in which we struggle to make sense of escalating atrocities, even an imperfect additional window is helpful.
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