Monday, 25 January 2010

Twitter and the Crash

BeirutImage via Wikipedia

News is flooding Twitter regarding the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight ET409 off the coast of Beirut as I write this. There are persistent tweets about survivors, but no confirmed MSM (mainstread media) reports of any survivors as yet. There were 90 people on board, 82 passengers and 8 crew - Ethiopian Airlines was very fast indeed to get a press release out, proving neatly that the BBC had flubbed and reported the wrong passenger/crew numbers as 83 pax, 9 crew. A small detail, but the devil's in details.

The 'plane itself had just been bought from Irish low cost carrier Ryan Air, apparently, and was delivered in December. Specialists in aviation were soon tweeting detail like that, which together with eyewitness reports and breaking news from websites like CNN, made for the usual compelling viewing of a news event unfolding on Twitter.

Tens of people are dead and we're using words like compelling viewing. What's happened to us?

We're involved in the story now, of course. I saw the tweets from Beirut as I settled down in the office and passed on the most pertinent of them. It was interesting that people were being more cautious than they have before in annotating tweets with 'unconfirmed'.

Having sent out the 'heads up' and given links (thanks to @SpotOn) to a couple of journalists who were covering events, I stopped passing on news. The passenger names being Tweeted out (albeit they had been read out on LBC TV, a departure from the European practice of letting civil defence notify families before names are broadcast) nagged at me, along with details like the number of bodies that had been fished out of the sea at such and such a point.

And yet this is how our news comes to us - on the second, from the event, unfolding with each new fact, supported by a community that has formed around its common interest in the event, brought together by a hashtag.

I found myself thinking of the image of Iranian student Neda Soltani, whose last sight on earth as her eyes flickered closed may well have been the cameraphone lens pointed in her face. There's something terribly comforting about being in a mob that I don't like.


Oussama said...

Twitter and other social media venues have been the source of breaking news and updates on air accidents and political turmoil. The ET B737 crash is no different. I agree with you that broadcasting the passenger names on TV is disturbing, and should have been done differently.
ET issued a press release and so did Boeing. The most noticeable thing is the condolences statement of Boeing as opposed to the lack of it on the ET statement.
In any case it appears that ET is handling the crisis properly.

Anonymous said...

You do realise that Twitter got as much wrong as it did right. So for all of the immediacy, you still need to quote news outlets who get official info.

You try and piece together a Twitter story of crediblity from the mass of tweets that were coming out...

PS - I don't think the plane was owned by Ryanair. I think it was the one owned by Oman Air and Globespan (but I could be wrong)

Seabee said...

I'm still a sceptic about Twitter as a breaking news source. I admit I don't understand it and don't know my way around it but to cut through the vast amount of clutter (the "I just walked the dog/washed my hair/ate a hamburger" stuff that is the vast bulk of the tweets) I searched 'Ethiopian Airline" and "ET409". All I found were people tweeting what they'd read/heard on the mainstream news channels.

alexander... said...

Twitter doesn't just perform on demand - to get the most out of, say, a news event you really need to be following strong, reputable sources on the ground. For me, that's always a mixture of digitally friendly journalists and social media users (Twitter users) who are based on the ground or who have direct contacts into events. Then you get reliable information as it breaks at source - and without the obfuscation and prevarication that is often characterised by 'offical sources'.

If you're not already hooked in on the ground, you can usually track down strong news sources through others - for instance, Spot On today tweeted out the names of some reputable journalists covering events, which meant that some 3,500 followers from around the world had access to strong 'on the ground' resources.

There was speculation on Twitter today, but I saw little error - in fact, the worst errors were derived from Al Arabiya reports of survivors.

Mi said...

Personally, I have found myself unfollowing people who keep posting such things: earthquakes, RIP's, suffering, complaining.. it is very tiring specially if the whole herd is discussing that little disturbing update.

Once I see those tweets filling up my timeline, I stop posting updates - I can't handle but feeling bad, or think "oh maybe it is a wrong timing".

BUT wait, the span of wrong timing can reach up to a whole DAY. Also, I discovered that ALL NEWS are BAD NEWS.

I do understand the pains that people go through and I empathize with each and everyone but this is where many people turn to to forget about their daily miseries ..

I think everyone's on twitter is fighting for attention, and it reached the level where posting names of dead people can help that. Yes I am judgmental analytical and trying to rationalize what is going on but should this stop? I think yes.

Get a blog, write a piece. It's more effective.

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