This week we learned just how serious Twitter is. In the midst of tragedy, horror, anger, pain, and fear we saw just how much this digital communication tool, and a host of other almost “instant” communication channels have changed the way we look for, engage with, and participate in information dissemination and sharing.
I would like to address something different. Something that has been on my mind as I have been working on my book this year. And that is the impact that real time communication, and the need we humans have to participate, share, and engage to feel part of community is having on two very important areas of our lives: Journalism and Law enforcement.
First I’d like you to think back.
Think back to 1986 (if you were alive then). I was a sophomore in college. I was in my biology lab when someone ran into our classroom and shouted: The Challenger just exploded! (That’s a link to the live feed from CNN). We had no Twitter. We had no Facebook. I had a computer, but it certainly didn’t talk to anything. We had no cell phones. We all just got up, and headed down to the student union and watched CNN, talked to each other in hushed tones, cried, and took it all in. Over the days that followed the news media were our source for information via newspaper, radio, and TV. As a community at my college, we talked, we shared, we commented. Face to face. We looked to our journalists to provide us with facts and information, which we took in, and for the most part, trusted. Through all of this, investigators controlled the message. Journalists speculated and dug, but information was not easy to come by unless released by NASA. Some video camera footage from individuals was used.
Now to that fateful day in September of 2001. I received news of the plane hitting one of the Twin Towers from a phone call (on my land line) from my ex. I tried to get online to see what was going on, but CNN wouldn’t load. I then went downstairs and put on the TV. I got on the land line to try to reach friends in DC (because by that point one of the planes had hit the Pentagon, and we had close friends who worked there). I won’t go into much detail here as we all an remember it. But I will say that I got my news from CNN. I listened to NPR. I read several different newspapers. I went online when able to (CNN had to drastically change their design to cope with the traffic to their site). Again, there was no Facebook. There was no Twitter. We got on the phone, we emailed, we talked in person, we gathered around the TV. We looked to our journalists to provide use with facts and information, which we also started to verify and explore on the internet, but we still, for the most part trusted those journalists. Through all of this, messaging was controlled by investigators and law enforcement, but we started to see that control slip as theories and other information popped up on the internet weeks afterwards. But control of the information and “leaks” were the word of the day.
Now to Boston. And this week. What did we experience as a nation and a world?
- Investigators CROWDSOURCING data from all the individuals who took pictures and video, tweeted, blogged, facebooked and added information to Reddit. Each individual who created content based on their experience added to a pool of data for investigators to comb through: Read recaps from Bloomberg and US News.
- The loss of respect for news media including the NY Post and CNN (not that they had much more to lose, really, but just take a look at this scathing take down from Jon Stewart if you haven’t already) for their rush to break news that was false.
- Law Enforcement having to use social media to keep people informed, refute wrongful media reports, and try to manage the chaos of a “lock down” situation throughout the streets of Boston. Just look at the Twitter feed from the Boston Police Department. And some of these notable tweets:
Despite reports to the contrary there has not been an arrest in the Marathon attack.
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 17, 2013
#MediaAlert: WARNING – Do Not Compromise Officer Safety/Tactics by Broadcasting Live Video of Officers While Approaching Search Locations
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 19, 2013
CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.
— Boston Police Dept. (@Boston_Police) April 20, 2013
- Birth of the new journalist. If you didn’t pay attention or know @taylordobbs before this, you should. A journalism student, a Vermonter in Boston. He started covering the MIT shooting via Twitter. Factual. Real Time. Excellent coverage. Main stream media trying to figure out the new way to report should take lessons from this man. Here’s a recap from the Burlington Free Press.
- Individuals participating all over the social sphere. Sharing, supporting, commenting, getting in the way, compromising safety, creating fake accounts — in other words human beings being human beings. It’s a brave new world and when the police first ask for information from everyone to get as much data as possible, but then during a chase and hunt, expect people to stop participiating, it’s just not going to work. When you broadcast via a scanner, people are going to then turn around and share that information — they aren’t going to just sit there and listen. (Honestly, it is beyond me WHY police scanners are now broadcast via the internet. There is such a thing as too much information!)
So what does this leave us with? Well in my opinion as an educator there are a few things we now need to do, and I’m not convinced these things are happening.
- Law Enforcement officials need social media and digitial communication training. Not just on how to utilize it to gather data, but how to manage it on a day to day basis as well as during a crisis.
- Journalists need to take a hard look at their profession. Hopefully J-schools are educating their students on how to report in a crisis using these tools. All current journalists need to go back to school to relearn their craft.
- K-12 education has to change curriculum in order to accomodate an “always on” practice — etiquitte, privacy, personal responsibility — all key in the digital age.
Human nature is not going to change. We share, come together, prank, cry, yell. But now we do it in multiple channels, multiple ways and those young people coming after the so-called millenialls (those 18 and younger) see no difference between face to face communication and digital communication. If you think managing all of this now is hard. Just wait for it.
The events of this week were just a look at what is to come. What comes next is up to all of us and what we have learned from experiencing all that we have experienced this week.