Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Crowdsourcing a crisis: How to use Twitter in a tragedy

Caitlin McGarry | April 24, 2013
Social media can be invaluable in the immediate aftermath of a disaster or breaking news story. It can also give you a dangerously distorted picture of what's going on.

CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.

But it's easy to spread rumors on social networks--much easier than without a smartphone and an Internet connection--because all it takes is the click of a button. Retweet on one network, share on another. You don't even have to offer your own commentary; simply click and forget. And, as one of the New York Post's "bag men," an innocent athlete whose sole mistake was being photographed with a bag on a tragic day, learned, social media can turn your life upside down in an instant.

"Sometimes they rise to the occasion and sometimes they fall flat," NPR's Andy Carvin said of online communities during Friday's International Symposium on Online Journalism.

Sometimes those communities rise and fall in the span of a few hours, as we saw most recently following the Boston bombings, but also in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings and Hurricane Sandy.

Carvin said it's easy to blame social media for the rapid spread of misinformation, but it's up to journalists to confirm facts and address rumors instead of buying into the hype. There are plenty of lessons to be applied on both sides during the next crisis, but they might not stick.

"I hope Reddit learns from this," one commenter posted in the (now private) apology thread.

"We're like goldfish," another responded. "Seven minutes from now nobody will remember anything bad happened at all."


Previous Page  1  2  3 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.