Image via WikipediaNews 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.