Times are changing, TV and radio are no longer the only and true source of information. The internet, and especially the social networks like Twitter, are becoming faster in delivering information and as influential as popular TV channels, or even more. Twitter was the first to publish information about the raid on Bin Laden. One of the users (Sohaib Athar, a.k.a. @ReallyVirtual) started tweeting, unaware what he was really describing.
His tweets gave a detailed story of the attack and death of the Al-Qaeda leader. Twitter also is a crucial part of the more recent events, like the unexpected storm in Pukkelpop (Belgium), English Riots or The Wall Street Protests. In most of these cases it was used by its users to help and update each other on the current situation. However, it happened that some users tried to make even bigger chaos and panic than the one already present.
On 18th of August in Belgium, Pukkelpop extreme storm disrupted the music festival. The stage and tents were destroyed, trees were falling and the horror resulted in 5 deaths and many injuries. Everything happened very fast and so unexpectedly that it was impossible to be prepared for it. After the storm, people were trying to connect with their friends, relatives and check if they are alright, call for help or find a place to stay for the night. But the overwhelming mobile traffic caused interruptions in calls. Twitter became the solution. The proper #tags provided information from those who were alright and wanted to calm their friends and families, from those who needed help, and those who searched or provided the place to stay for the night. People just needed a tool like Twitter to organise themselves and help each other. Thanks to it, everything went smoother, decreased the tremendous amount of work for the public services, and increased the speed of news about the injured and those who were alright.
A bit earlier, on 6th of August, in the UK unexpected riots took place. Twitter was again the source of information. Users were tweeting about what they see, posting pictures and YouTube videos. Others were listening intensely, so intensely that the day after 1 in every 170 UK internet visitors visited Twitter. The traffic spiked by 15% in 48 hours, even though all TV stations were playing their footage of the street chaos. Twitter, unfortunately, was also used by the rioters, but it is believed BlackBerry Messenger played the biggest role in their communication.
Twitter as a tool can be used in both good and bad ways, depending on its users intentions. Sadly some people used it to cause even more panic and disruption. There were pictures of a tiger running the streets described as a part of the London-Zoo animals, which escaped after rioters broke in. There were false claims of the army assembling in Bank, or misleading information about rioters heading in false directions.
Fortunately, soon afterwards Twitter was used to organise 500 volunteers who helped clean up London.
The recent events showed the power of the social networks. For some people, it might have been a surprise that technology moved so fast, and real time news don’t necessarily come first from the TV or radio, but from Twitter. The others might be scared of the bad things Twitter was used for. But I think we all should remember it is just a tool and the amount of good that it contributes is worth the occasional misuse of it.