(© Rodolfo Clix / sxc.hu)
SOCIAL networking sites and blogs already bustle with messages and images on normal days. Last week, traffic shot up, as eyewitnesses posted gruesome reports on the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, on 26 Nov 2008.
Other than going to the websites of news organisations for the latest reports and other relevant information, people are relying on websites like micro-blogging service Twitter, photo-sharing utility Flickr, and blogs to exchange information.
Google Maps search on Mumbai attacks
They use Google Maps to locate the Oberoi Trident and Taj Mahal hotels, which were besieged and badly damaged by the terrorists.
Mathew Ingram, who blogs about new media and the Web for The Globe and Mail in Toronto, Canada, noted in his personal blog that like a lot of people, he was following the terrorist attacks on Twitter, Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube and blogs, among others.
“Sites like Global Voices — the excellent blog network set up by Ethan Zuckerman and Rebecca MacKinnon of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society — and NowPublic have a lot of content, and Amy Gahran of Poynter has a pretty good roundup as well,” he said.
“Following Mumbai Attacks via Social Media”, from contentious.com
Media consultant Amy Gahran posted a roundup of reports and comments on the Mumbai attacks on her blog, contentious.com. In the posting, “Following Mumbai Attacks via Social Media,” she said: “In addition to mainstream news coverage from India and around the world, internet users are sharing news and information — including people in Mumbai, some of whom are at or near the attack scenes.”
Gahran, who also edits the e-Media Tidbits section for journalism organisation The Poynter Institute and helps create e-learning modules for Poynter’s News University, observed that on the ground in Mumbai, not many people were using Twitter to post first-hand reports. However, she said she found Twitter useful for links to blog posts, mainstream news reports, photos and videos contributed or shared by people from all over the world.
Other websites she cited in her roundup: Wikipedia, web directory Mahalo and citizen journalism websites NowPublic and Ground Report. Then there are blogs with first-hand accounts of escaping the attack scene, such as Children of Bombay by Sonia Faleiro, India Uncut by Amit Varma and the various voices compiled on Global Voices.
Can blogs be trusted?
“Live: 200 turn up for PJ vigil” from anilnetto.com
In Malaysia, there is no shortage of reports from the ground whenever there is a major public event these days. Many may already be familiar with the live feeds put up on journalist Anil Netto’s website.
With the help of citizen journalists, Anil, who also contributes to Aliran Monthly, Asia Times, The Herald and Inter Press Service, has put up live feeds of the anti-Internal Security Act vigils in Petaling Jaya, Selangor: “LIVE: 200 turn up for PJ vigil” on 23 Nov and “LIVE: Restrictive permit fails to spoil ‘best vigil so far’” on 16 Nov. In August, they reported on the Permatang Pauh by-election in the article, “Eve of polling: LIVE reports from Ground Zero”.
Freelance writer and blogger Susan Loone has also posted first-hand accounts of the mood on the ground at the by-election, such as this report, “War zone in P44 counting centre, but where is Umno?”.
These are only two examples. There are countless more of how different people use blogs, social networking sites, and photo and video sharing applications to put out information and opinions — in Malaysia and the world over.
Of course, there will be questions on how reliable or credible some of the information are. Ingram noted that some people refuse to acknowledge these websites and tools as valid sources of news.
He cited the example of Tom, who wrote in Tom’s Tech Blog, that tweets are not news as they were not verified.
Tom wrote: “If you watch Twitter you’ll see people reporting an attack at the Marriot Hotel in Mumbai. The problem is there was NO ATTACK on the Marriot. The Ramada Hotel next door was attacked by several gunmen but nothing’s happened at the Marriot.
“Now imagine, if you’re someone who has family or friends at the Marriot right now. You’d be scared out of your mind over information that’s completely false.
“I’m sorry but it really makes me angry. What you have here are people who simply don’t care if they get the news right. They’re turning the most dire of situations into entertainment by using Twitter to ‘be involved in the story.’ They throw their little tweets out not caring who they scare half to death and then brag about how great Twitter is for ‘beating the mainstream media at reporting the news’.”
Ingram acknowledges the concern raised by Tom. “It’s true that messages posted to Twitter aren’t verified in any sense of the word, and in many cases could be wrong, or could perpetuate misunderstandings or factual inaccuracies — although I think it’s worth noting that dozens of Twitter messages corrected the Marriott reports not long after they first appeared on Twitter,” he said.
“At the same time, however, I think he’s blaming Twitter for something that occurs during every similar news event: in other words, unverified eyewitness reports. Every time there is a bombing or an earthquake or a tsunami, there are reports — many of which appear on television and other ‘traditional’ media outlets — that turn out to be completely wrong.”
Ingram argued that this does not necessarily make the report invalid. He said “chaotic situations result in poor information flow — even to the ‘professional’ journalists”. He said first-hand and second-hand reports on Twitter are no worse.
“Should anyone take them as gospel, or the final version of the events? No. Obviously, at some point someone has to check the facts, confirm reports, analyse the outcome, and so on. News reporting and journalism are much more of a process than they are a discrete thing. But as I have tried to argue before, Twitter reports are a valuable ‘first draft of history,’ and that is a pretty good definition of the news.”
Twitter search function
Gahran said while some of the information on the Mumbai attacks were produced by professional news organisations and journalists, most were not. “Use your own judgment regarding which to trust,” she advised.
We are constantly bombarded with information and opinions — some are verified or well-substantiated, while others are not. Consumers of news, information or comments — whether they are published online, in print or broadcast — should never suspend their critical thinking to decide for themselves whether such reports are credible, or not.
Cindy Tham is business development manager at The Nut Graph. She’s also interested in how different people and organisations promote their ideas, brands, products and services on the internet, whether for commercial or non-commercial reasons.