The recent US Presidential election was a stunning demonstration of the power of social media as now supported via the Internet. Indeed social media such as Twitter may now be the principal medium of communication if one measures the ‘bandwidth’, interpreted loosely, that goes into such twittering.
Now the dreadful incidents in Mumbai provide another far-too shocking example. That prompts Tim Malbon to ask a fundamental question: Mumbai: flash mob or social media in action?
When news of the ‘terrorist outrage’ broke yesterday evening several people mailed and messaged me with links to the coverage on Twitter. I was awestruck by the live feeds provided at #Mumbai and others (such as Twitter Grid). Having looked around elsewhere, my initial reaction was that the main old-school news agencies like Reuters, CNN and the BBC just weren’t providing the coverage, in contrast to the truly MASSIVE volume of tweeting going on.
However as the evening continued, he become somewhat disillusioned about the chaotic nature of the torrent of information that was being generated
There were no doubt many well-meaning people Twittering. Some on the ground were no doubt using the service to share their personal horror and to connect with the outside world must have been a comfort. But very few were on the ground. Most participants were far away. There needs to be some way of working out who in a situation like this has more authority than someone else. … Last night scared me. We’re like kids playing with things that we still don’t understand. A human tragedy became “something to follow”.
Crowdsourcing is of course an attempt to bring some order to the chaos. Cloud computing in Africa, for example, can help aid workers to better identify what is really happening in major crises. As one aid worker has noted:
Crowdsourcing means that crisis situations can be explored at comparatively little cost, by making information freely available from an untold numbers of sources. We would basically be liberating information from the vaults of Non Governmental (and governmental) Organizations that have of necessity safeguarded information release for self-preservation.
Another and perhaps better way of marshaling all this data is to consider online surveys. Of course cell phones can be used merely to indicate who you think should be the next American Idol. However as we all become more at ease in the digital world, we may well be more inclined to make sure our opinions are known.