Twitter and Journalism: Mumbai's Citizens Report
As the dust starts to settle, the analysis begins. As with other major news incidents in the recent past, Twitter featured heavily in the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks. Reflexively, the term "citizen journalism" pops up, but coverage like this is far more piecemeal, and more conducive to analysis than one would think. Meanwhile, tweets continue to tweet as the hostage situation in Mumbai continues.
The mircoblogging platform exploded out of the techie world and into the streets, allowing exponentially more people to utilize this quick (albeit curt) blogging tool.
Within five seconds at 0748 GMT, 80 messages were posted. Posts included offers of help for the media and updates on the situation.
"One terrorist has jumped from Nariman house building to Chabad house - group of police commandos have arrived on scene," one tweeter wrote.
So, is tweeting journalism? Well, it's reporting, and that's the crucial first step. Mathew Ingram discusses it further.
Does that make those reports invalid? No. Obviously, no one wants a loved one to be worried by false reports. But at the same time, chaotic situations result in poor information flow — even to the “professional” journalists who are working at the scene. 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, analyze 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.
Of course, as Mathew points out, reports need to be confirmed, and no one is going to put the Twitter genie back in the bottle. It's a very rough first draft. There has to be a better way to triangulate and confirm news reports, where you could verify that eyewitnesses are actually on the ground where they say the are. If you are getting multiple tweets from several people in the same area, the likelihood that the information is accurate would increase. Of course, they could all be spreading the same rumor, which happens in traditional media as well. Using video as the source material would make the information easier to confirm.
It wasn't just Twitter, though:
Social news sites and citizen journalism: Wikipedia had a current events page, 26 November 2008 Mumbai attacks. Mahalo also is tracking the news. NowPublic has multimedia coverage. Ground Report also has coverage.
Blogs: A Mumbai Help blog has been set up, and several prominent Indian bloggers are participating. The community blog Mumbai Metblogs has lots of coverage, including photos and video. India Uncut offers blogger Amit Varma's firsthand account of escaping the scene of an attack. Gaurav Mishra offers a roundup: Real Time Citizen Journalism in Mumbai Terrorist Attacks. Maitri Venkat-Ramani also has a good roundup. On Global Voices Online, Neha Viswanathan posted a roundup of reports from several Indian blogs.
Maps: Here's an embeddable Google Map of the attack sites
Flickr:Vinu has several photos from an attack scene.
Parsing out Bao’s response, it looks like we still don’t know the exact source of this rumor’s first report, but apparently it might have come from a Twitter user in Mumbai. He also said it was “confirmed by video” — but we don’t know where that video was, whether that confirmation was an on-camera statement by police, whether someone was relaying on video information they’d gotten first-hand from the police, or whether someone was simply repeating an unsourced rumor on video.
Specifically, when you hear something that sounds surprising or important, CHECK OR ASK FOR THE PRIMARY SOURCE before you share the news. It’s not hard to do, and it’s a crucial step.
If something just sounds like common sense (like, “Hey, tweeting details of police movements here might endanger police and hostages, so don’t do that!”), there’s no need to appeal to authority (i.e., saying the police said so) to make people listen. A true common-sense message stands on its own — and in social media like Twitter, it could carry more credibility as a peer recommendation than if positioned vaguely as an order from “above.”