Monday, January 19, 2009

Tweeting a plane crash... mobile phone photographing a terror attack

...Or, how citizen journalism combined with social media continues to out report mainstream media.

The first time I remember regular people witnessing and recording newsworthy events with camera phones and pushing those images out through social media was during the terror attacks in London in 2005. Oddly enough, I was there. Two days after I arrived to Middlesex University outside of London for summer marketing classes, it was announced that London would host the 2012 summer Olympics.

The following morning, London erupted. Metro stations and city buses exploded with homemade explosives accompanied by homegrown terrorists. Young men from UK soil, brainwashed into demolishing their countrymen and women, systematically blew up local London transportation hubs.

After calling my mom and J to let them know that I was, in fact, alive and well (at 6 a.m. their time, before they even knew anything was amiss... "Uh, don't worry. Everything blew up here. I'm fine. Sorry to spring this on you first thing in the morning....") we all parked in front of the news, looking for answers about what happened, how many were killed... and why. The photo at the left is one that sticks in my mind from the days following those attacks... Passengers trapped in the tube after a tunnel caved in.

The news was thoroughly disappointing. They knew nothing. All they covered were statements from public officials and interviews with stunned victims and witnesses from the attack. The most compelling new information was consistently provided by those on the scene, snapping images with their phones and emailing them to friends and contacts from all over the world. These images, when they finally reached the news media, were far more informative than anything that London journalists were able to gather with their cutting edge video and camera equipment.

What's happened recently is one step beyond London.

Not only are witnesses and victims alike taking photos, but they are going further than emailing their captures to one friend at a time... They are posting images to social media outlets like Twitter in real time.

From an Information Week blog:
Within minutes there were hundreds of Tweets about the crash, complete with pictures from eyewitnesses and even one person who was on a NYC ferry headed to the crash site to pick up passengers.
Crash photos linked from Twitter were circulating all over the world before the story was even picked up by any of the major news outlets - and I'm talking websites, not just televised news!,, NOTHING.

Hell, back in December when another Continental flight skidded off of a Denver runway, crashing, a passenger live Tweeted the incident (this is actually kind of funny.... from The Guardian)
14 December, 4.06pm Whew! Christmas shopping pretty much done. 100% online except for a couple of gift certs.

20 December, 5.25pm Holy fucking shit, I was just in a plane crash!

5.58pm This was crash No 2 for me. Maybe I should start taking the bus.

8.22pm You have your wits scared out of you, drag your butt out of a flaming ball of wreckage and you can't even get a vodka-tonic. Boo.

11.22pm [From computer at home] Sorry for the radio silence, but my battery died in the middle of all this and I just made it home.

11.57pm Pretty exhausted at this point, so I'm heading off to bed. Good night!

21 December, 8.29am Waiting in the continental club for the "replacement" flight. Noticing I'm a little sore.

5.25pm I'm sitting as close to the exit as possible this time.

7.57pm Touchdown! Crowd goes wild!
All I can say is that if something this traumatic ever happens to me, I hope I have this guy's sense of humor about the scenario. And Tweeting it?! I barely have enough going on in my life to keep tweeting on a regular basis anyway. I guess a crisis might spice things up a bit...

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