Online Social-Interactive Media affect all aspects of life now–and death. Famously, journalism was called “the first draft of history” by Washington Post publisher Philip L. Graham. But now, with cell phones and pocket still and video digital cameras, OSIM and internet access, the initial reports from news scenes (especially breaking news) tend to be from citizens on-the-spot, not reporters.* We first witnessed this phenomenon’s power in video from the South Asia Tsunami and stills from the London Bombings. In politics, recall the stumble of the George Allen Senate Campaign over the “Macaca moment,” and then in the 2008 primary Barack Obama’s “bitter” comments. Politicians know (or should know): everyone in room is a potential journalist (or at least recorder and uploader of information) and nothing can truly be off-the-record. As a consequence, pols are more guarded than ever–this was true in the New Hampshire primary, typically a time for folksy engagement.

In such a light, some media tech notes from the Mumbai Terrorist attacks:

TERRORISTS USED GOOGLE EARTH TO RECON MUMBAI: According to a Mumbai crime branch official, the ten terrorists had not come to Mumbai before this to conduct any ‘recce’ and they had learnt about the locations with the help of Google Earth.

TWITTER UPDATES 0N TERROR HELP OR HURT?: News on the Bombay attacks is breaking fast on Twitter withhundreds of people using the site to update others with first-hand accounts of the carnage. The website has a stream of comments on the attacks which is being updated by the second, often by eye-witnesses and people in the city. Although the chatter cannot be verified immediately and often reflects the chaos on the streets, it is becoming the fastest source of information for those seeking unfiltered news from the scene. In the past hour, people using Twitter reported that bombings and attacks were continuing, but none of these could be confirmed. Others gave details on different locations in which hostages were being held. And this morning, Twitter users said that Indian authorities was asking users to stop updating the site for security reasons: One person wrote: “Police reckon tweeters giving away strategic info to terrorists via Twitter”.

CITIZEN JOURNALISTS PROVIDE GLIMPSES INTO ATTACKSFrom his terrace on Colaba Causeway in south Mumbai, Arun Shanbhag saw the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel burn. He saw ambulances leave the Nariman House. And he recorded every move on the Internet. Mr. Shanbhag, who lives in Boston but happened to be in Mumbai when the attacks began on Wednesday, described the gunfire on his Twitter feed — the “thud, thud, thud” of shotguns and the short bursts of automatic weapons — and uploaded photos tohis personal blog.


*See essay by Steve Livingston in: David D. Perlmutter & John Hamilton, ed. From Pigeons to News Portals: Foreign Reporting and the Challenge of New Technology (LSU Press, 2007).

Originally posted November 30, 2008 at PolicyByBlog

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    Original Reader Comments (27)

    The advent of new technology demands new responsibilities concerning the technology and places the responsibilities in new hands. The publishing power of the internet enables all kinds of users to post content on the internet–Twitter status, YouTube citizen journalism videos etc. The accessibility of information on the internet questions what people will do with the information–use Google Earth for terrorist attacks, use the Twitter status for furthering terrorist attacks.
    Everyone involved is constantly experiencing new relationships with the responsibility involved.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdude.hey

    Online networking shadows what our generation knows as reality. Not only is functioning several media at one time constant, but also it is normal. The evolution of media, marketing, networking, etc. controls how we as journalism students and as everyday citizens relay information to the rest of the world, yes the world.
    With advancing technologies all people are capable of uploading and sharing content with other people connected through the World Wide Web. This takes away from journalists who go to school in order to learn the ins and outs of reporting and editing. Certain technologies have enabled people to be the reporters, although some of this content may be deemed as not credible. In terms of marketing and advertising consumers no longer trust companies, they trust other consumers, for that reason consumers rely on twitter and other blogs.
    There are both positive and negative effects of the increase in social media, as shown through the example of Terrorist’s use of the Internet to further their attacks. People will always find ways to use technology to their advantage, whether it is good or bad for the rest of the world.
    Even though jobs are potentially being taken away from journalists, I think that the use of online social media proves its purpose. Censorship never sits well with Americans due to the First Amendment, but in some cases it is needed. Internet cesnsorship will continue to be a controversial issue, taking away people’s privilege to share will not sit well with citizens that want to protect their freedom of speech.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermegs527

    “With great power comes great responsibility.” This quote not only applies to Spiderman but also to people and technology. With technology evolving it is only just for media to evolve as well. It means everyday citizens can be world-wide journalists. People need to know what is going on in our world in order to learn from our mistakes. It is our responsibility to keep ourselves informed.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterfabi.f.babi

    I think that when it comes to making posts during attacks should be censored by the writers themselves. When it comes to the use of Google Earth I don’t think there are any problems presented. Location information can be easily obtained in many ways, especially the information that they would have found on Google Earth. It is unethical to stop the ability to post on Twiter but it is also unethical for writers to post information that would endanger others. In some cases, Twiter posts could offer help to officials. It is just a matter of whether the posts would help or hurt and that decision should be left to the writer.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbuster

    On the one hand, I am excited that the “power” of journalism has been spread more evenly to allow all people to publicize information. Gone are the days when the elite and the educated decided what the people should and should not know (for the most part). In the U.S., anyone with access to the internet can spread his ideas and share information– secrets are scarce. Although this information vomit, if you will, frees up many to voice their opinions, it can also lead to faulty or false journalism: fiction disguised as fact. As long as Americans research the information they uncover (as they should do with any news provider), then the benefits of OSIM will outweigh the negatives. In general, the more people there are talking, the more chances there are for the truth to be heard.
    January 20, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSongbomb21

    I think citizen journalism can be great for society, since it allows people to show and tell breaking news with camera phones and twitter, and leads to various perspectives on issues through blogs. But the power that inviduals now have comes with responsibility, and a great deal of mis-information is available on the internet because of irresponsible or misinformed people. I think OSIM has great potential, but people need to prove they can handle it.
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdugarte

    With the advancement in technology it is no surprise that common people have become so called “journalist”. Communication has become dependent on technology, which makes it no longer necessary to ever have to communicate in person. Programs such as Twitter have made it easier to communicate with masses of people in just seconds. In my opinion this is both a good and a bad thing. I think the question is if the advancements in technology have helped the world or made it worse. It is astonishing to know that terrorists were able to locate their location for their Mumbai attack from a public Google search. Although new technologies are created to make life easier for people, it may actually be helping to damage society. With anyone and everyone becoming their own journalist, there is no filter on the information that is being posted for the world to see. As an American, I feel that it is my right to instantaneously post a video or comment when I want, but when does it become to much? That is a question I am really unsure about because without the people who freely recorded and talked about the terrorist attacks on social websites as they were happening in the Mumbai attack, we might not have known exactly what was happening. At the same time the Internet, specifically Google earth might be to blame for the attacks.
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersugar086

    Citizen journalists have become a scare for politicians and teachers but have become an inside look at world happenings to many people around the world. Citizen journalists report,record, tweet and blog about anything and everything but the real threat is what virtual conversation can do our safety. This conversation of course can be good and bad. In response to terrorists in Mumbai using Google Earth before ever visiting the city I would like to know what other forms of information lead them to this violence. Google earth is not worth shutting down in India but perhaps his attack could be investigated as to why these terroritsts gained more information about the surrounding area and how they planned these attacks. I agree citizen journalists, bloogers and anyone with a cell phone can do harm but the amount of communication at stake needs to be considered before removing such cabailities. Is it the communication abilities that they want to stop or is it the terroist actions that need to stop?
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterte6506

    I understand that Twitter can be both helpful and harmful with respect to the Mumbai terrorist attacks. On the one hand, the site provides constant updates like what places to avoid, where hostages are being held and whether or not the bombing has stopped. This is viable information because it has the potential to save lives. On the other hand, Twitter can be a harmful tool. For example some used the site to reveal information about possible terrorists. This is dangerous because people can take this information and try to locate the suspected terrorist. Not only are they putting themselves in danger, but also if their information is wrong, they are harming an innocent person.
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteraimsk09

    I believe that evolving technologies on the web are good ways for people to communicate, specifically twitter, facebook etc. Citizen journalism is just a new way for people to inform each other on what is going on in the world. There definitely should be a line drawn though when it comes to documenting terrorist attacks as they happen. Its too hard to tell people where that line is, but I believe people should take into account the safety and feelings of others when commenting and posting on sites such as twitter.
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterdaslonka

    So now everyone is a journalist. How fantastic it is. It seems to me that YouTube and other similar sites are becoming a haven for people who desperately need to attribute something to this world. OSIM does have great potential, however regulation has its purposes. I’m still having trouble understanding how OSIM can help terrorists.
    January 21, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMikeJohn1013

    I also believe that technologies and websites like Twitter and Myspace are great tools to communicate. They
    connect the world like never before, and with that comes responsibility. Just like blogging, people have the power to state their opinion as fact, and fact as fiction. While it is unfortunate that Twitter could have been used to assist the terrorists, it is just another responsibility we now have recognize. As Twitter and other sites like it become more popular, the information posted will change. Citizens will realize its power, and just like with Myspace and Facebook, its users will become more conscious of what is posted.

    As for Twitter being used to help terrorists, I find that a little far fetched. To me, the idea of these terrorists having someone sit at a computer, dictating attacks according to what they read on Twitter seems a little ridiculous. It is also unfair to really point any finger at Twitter and the journalists who posted. Citizen journalism is meant to inform everyone, and you really can’t control who sees it and what they do with that information.
    January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDover

    This post brings back memories of the horrifying Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. I remember much of the early coverage consisted of video captured on a cell while the shootings were still taking place. Viewers could hear the gunshots from outside the building and see people running, scared for their lives. It was so real. This sort of instant coverage adds a whole new element of reality and credibility to how the public understands news, which is good. It also adds a whole new element of responsibility for news stations. Using the Virginia Tech massacre as an example, news stations had to decide, within a matter of minutes, whether or not to broadcast the video they received. New mediums mean more tough decisions for news stations.
    January 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwachashi

    With any new technology there is a miread of advantages and disadvantages. It’s about taking the steps necessary to minimize the disadvantages (helping terrorists). As with anything there is always the potential for someone or a group to abuse the power and responsibility.Today people have more opportunities to communicate and connect with people. There is infinite amounts of information available which should not become a negative or source of evil. I’m not sure how this info can be regulated because people have the freedom to post anything they wish. With rewards there will always be risk.
    January 22, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterEmily87

    I believe that this new media and along with citizen journalism can be both beneficial and detrimental to society when it is used unethically. Using twitter to notify loved ones that they are safe is very beneficial. However, I feel that when twitter is used to post names of the people involved, putting those people lives in danger or twittering about military locations and movements this media is being used unethically. Citizen journalism can be beneficial by helping fix public problems but if used unethically it can defame people when posted out of context with creative editing. Google earth is another dangerous technology that can be great to view but borders on infringing on the privacy of people along with giving important visuals on locations that can be used on attacks. It is up to the people to help control the use of new technology and the spread of information in an ethical manner.
    January 22, 2009 | Unregistered Commentergretzky99

    Citizen journalism and new media have become quite popular with all of the new phone and internet capabilities.
    These new innovations may be positive or negative depending on the situation and the user’s intention. For instance, the terrorists who took advantage of Google Earth to plot their attacks was very much negative. There was no way of controlling the use this. Twitter is another technology that cannot be tightly controlled. The writer can easily place hidden messages in their updates. As stated here, police interpreted the comments regarding the Bombay attacks as negative, but they may have not purposely been written that way. The police may have just been precautious and hopeful to prevent further attacks. Other technologies of citizens being journalist have great benefits if properly used. A lot of unexpected news is first seen by everyday civilians, not professional reporters. Now that so many people have cameras and internet capabilities on their phones, they are the first ones reporting the news. This can been seen as a benefit, as most people are typically curious of events as they are happening and seeing live footage…Not of a reporter standing in front of a building blabbing.
    January 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterk523

    Although in no position of power in our society, it is a bit unsettling to know just about anyone could whip out a camera or cell phone and have my words or actions posted on YouTube in minutes. The quick advancement with today’s technology can be harmful (i.e. Seinfeld’s Kramer’s public racism) but also helpful. In cases such as the Virginia Tech shooting, the videos captured by the students allowed officials to get more details of the tragedy. It is hard to say what will be next with growing on-line social networks, the You Tube obsession, and Twitters, but the world of on-line videos and quick communication tools is moving places, and getting there fast.
    January 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkew27

    Social media was a relatively unfamiliar idea to most people just five years ago. Now people are google-earthing their houses or twittering another individual’s every move. These technologies amount to so much more than simply keeping tab on the mundane aspects of everyday life. Any of these increasingly popular technologies can be used to help or hurt. Responsibility needs to be assumed in order to prevent death or aiding terrorists as a result of the use of this new technology.
    January 25, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersenior.09

    I believe citizen journalism comes with its benefits and downfalls. One positive aspect is that information can be delivered or obtained immediately, and in a culture that values instant gratification, this is beneficial. However, one negative aspect is that anyone has access to that information thereby enabling the misuse of that information. Furthermore, I think internet users need to be skeptical of anything they find on the web because the source cannot necessarily be trusted. When anyone is capable of reporting anything, incorrect information can run rampant.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJayhawk411

    The idea of citizen journalism is both intriguing and unsettling. News happens fast and the more ability the public has of gaining immediate knowledge is a plus. We as a public would not have been able to witness many things such as the initial Taj Mahal attacks without the help of a citizen. On the downside, more clutter is going into our already noisy world and filtering fact from fiction becomes even more difficult.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCiaoBella

    Whether twitter and other forms of citizen journalism are valid is up for debate, however, one thing is true. Citizen journalism pushes the envelope on the quality of professional journalism. As for ethics, it is the professional journalist’s duty to fill in the blanks left by citizen journalists. Many times citizens report on only one side of the equation—either a great visual representation of an event, or no pictures and a first hand account. It is the job of professional journalist to report using both of these aspects, and do it well. As more and more people around the world have access to instant communication, journalists must confirm preliminary and initial accounts, and gather the facts that were left out by investigating all sides to a story.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWMJ220

    Social media provides a new channel for media to be published and received. Cell phones have made it possible for anyone to be a journalist. It will be interesting to learn the ethical standpoints surrounding the popularity of social media.
    Twitter, for example, has become increasingly more popular and news conglomerates are taking advantage of it. CNN now shows a Twitter “ticker” when breaking news occurs. Again this is another example allowing for any person to be a journalist.
    Terrorists are believed to have used Google Earth to plan attacks. Does this mean there needs to be more regulation? I am not certain, but with new technology arising everyday information is becoming easier to access. If Google Earth wasn’t accessible to the terrorists, they could surely find information other ways.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjthought87

    The rise of citizen journalism has greatly changed the way many major events have been seen by the public eye. Because any one person in the right place at the right time, has the chance to be the breaking news reporter on a major story, it is important that everyone understand the pros and cons of citizen journalism. Those who act quickly to report a story, need to make sure they have correct facts and consider the information they are handing out. At the same time, those reading and observing the news need to understand the difference between telling a story quickly and having a week to check all of the facts. We need to realize that with the rise of OSIM we have a greater duty to make sure that we know all of the facts are true and not just for shock value.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJacquelann

    Although the continuous feed of information on twitter can be harmful, especially when fictional information is given, citizen journalism is an unavoidable progression in our technology based society. A lot of technology has positive and negative aspects which is something we are having to experience more and more on a daily basis. However, our nation is based on freedom of speech and the ability to communicate our ideas and experiences and there is really no way to censor twitter blogs without impinging on our personal rights.People who participate in twitter should be aware that there is always a possibility they are being misinformed.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDuke44

    Citizen journalism, like everything else in life, has its positives and negatives. “With great power comes great responsibility.” We have the power to capture events, sometimes life changing, as they are happening. With this comes the responsibility to do so and share it with our peers. With this also comes the abuse of great power and great responsibility.
    It’s like when you look back and wonder how we ever lived without cellphones as devices to simply keep our loved ones updated on our whereabouts, and God forbid, inform them of a crisis. Now, we are wondering what we ever did without cellphones to snap a picture at just the right moment or video a once in a lifetime event. It’s important for citizens to utilize these tools for the good. Capture events as they are happening when a paid journalist may not be present. Footage from citizen journalists has proven to be very useful numerous times. However, this power can be abused. These stories can be stretched. This footage can be used negatively and do more harm than good. I find that the positives outweigh the negatives, and I also find that everyone has their own opinion of this.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterinot1987

    The topic of citizen journalism is something that years ago would have seemed so far-fetched. It is amazing how far our technology has taken us in the media. Of course it seems scary to know that any person around you is just as powerful as Katie Couric or any other notorious journalist. This allows us as everyday people to see news as soon as it is possibly available. Everyone is equipped with cameras at all times, whether it is a cell phone or not. This idea has been beneficial to us when it comes to the knowledge of new information, but it can also be detrimental to our country. I do not think it’s fair to blame any terrorist attacks on the use of Twitter. People are all able to write what the want, where they want. We just seem to think that nowadays people sould censor themselves and their ideas when it could possible hurt another person or community.
    The social media that is available at our fingertips is amazing. These tools allow us to communicate with nearly anyone. It has opened up a whole different way to do business and share ideas.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLMP316

    The fact that people are disseminating information personally for their own benefit and others is an interesting problem that our world has to adjust to. While I think that breaking news pictures and firsthand accounts of things happening are quite intriguing, I also believe that people need to be careful what they are spreading. Some information/visual images don’t need to be spread like wildfire without discretion. Issues of privacy and public embarrassment can often be compromised.
    January 26, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersunshine

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