Crises Tracking on Twitter: The Benefits –and Dangers– of New Media

Yesterday morning, on a slow Sunday, I was witness to yet another disaster being reported from first hand sources on Twitter. This has reoccured for the small explosion at Times Square last year, Earthquake in China, Bombings in India, Fires in L.A., and now a propane factory exploding in Toronto.

When I tweeted that “BREAKING: @photojunkie citizen journalist has pics and video of Toronto explosion, BEFORE press story” I was acting like an amplifier. Some reporters follow me and it quickly was swept into the LATimes blog, and I was contacted in email by a Canadian newspaper, who I sent to Photojunkie, a real source, as I was not.

Of course, this leads to some risks: 1) Sources may panic, and over or under state the situation. 2) Determining who is a credible source is a challenge, 3) Echos from the online network may over pump or mis state very important facts that could impact people’s safety. How did I know that Photojunkie wasn’t lying? I don’t. I did however first review his site, his history on Twitter, and saw his pictures and videos before pointing to them.

Key Takeaways

  • The new News Wire is now Twitter, the “Twire”?
  • News continues to break from first hand sources, in the past, the press would break the stories.
  • The jobs of the press are both easier and harder: They’ve improved access to sources in real time, but the level of noise has increased.
  • Press and Media must monitor Twitter: we’ve never seen information break as fast as this.
  • Press still have a very important role: vetting out what’s true and false to the best of their ability.
  • The community (myself included) must be mindful of what’s real and what’s not, over hyping or spreading false information could impact lives.
  • Emergency response teams and local municipalities should monitor the online chatter, just as they do emergency short wave channels.
  • Below are some shocking videos that were taken, warning, there is harsh language, and some of this is very frightening, imagine being woken up in the middle of the night, the cause unknown, I can imagine how scary this is.

    Toronto Explosion from photojunkie on Vimeo.
    Above Video from Photojunkie, you can hear the individual propane tanks explode. We later learned from the newspaper the star that “propane tanks dropping from the sky

    Above Video (Language, Scary): This YouTube Video (already seen 59,000 times) has some cursing, so be careful when playing at work. The reaction and shaky scene isn’t out of the next Cloverfield movie, but it has the same scary intensity of first person recordings. In the past, news teams would have to interview these witnesses, now we see for ourselves through their eyes. There’s no way a journalist could truly report the shockwave and people’s reaction, if pictures tell a thousand words, what do videos tell? (video found on Dave Fleet’s site)