Mumbai Bombings and Social Media

There will be time for more thoughtful analysis later. For now I wanted my students in particular to check out how today’s bombings in Mumbai are playing out in various social media.

I suggest you search Twitter using hashtags such as #MumbaiBlasts, #Mumbai, and — believe it or not — #here2help. You should also look for other video and accounts on YouTube and Facebook.

And remember: this flood of messages is inevitably packed with everything from the ridiculous to the sublime, from false claims to painful and urgent truths. When I suggest that you get a feel for the role that social media can play in events like these, I am not making any claim about accuracy. They simply are a fact of global social life in the 21st century.

The sad fact is these types of tragedies do seem to reveal so many of the potential uses and abuses, opportunities and dangers, of social media. And every so often, some truly profound development finds its way through the confusion and crowd of the digital world,  and quickly commands global attention.

The trick will be for all of us to give up our passivity and see the flood of messages from social media as a resource that requires us to actively be our own editors — to evaluate, curate, edit, and ultimately accept or reject what we discover.

It’s worth a look.

The Arguments About Blogs and Twitters and Tweets Are Interesting, But Irrelevant; They Have Come of Age


Something extremely important is happening at this very moment and it is worth taking a look.

Despite all the past debate about the blogosphere — sometimes heated — among conventional journalists, bloggers, and plain old twitterers , the New York Times is putting together some extraordinary breaking coverage of the events in Iran using just these types of “questionable” sources.

These  include Flickr, Twitter,  social networks, instant messaging, You Tube, and numerous blogs. The Times coverage appears in the Lede blog on the home page of the Internet edition.

I have always listened when Bill Keller, Times Managing Editor, and other journalists have offered their sometimes biting critique of the blogosphere:  Who are these bloggers? What are their sources? How can they be trusted?  These are fair questions.

But forget those  arguments for a second and look at the Times itself. The fact is that, when events like those in Iran occurred,   experienced journalists immediately  looked to all these fragmented sources and knew just what to do with them.  They collated them, questioned them, linked to them, accepted some,  rejected others,  and tried to fit them into  a larger puzzle.  It worked.

One big kvetch of conventional journalists has been that the blogosphere has no fact-checkers and editors.  But the complaint has essentially fizzled. The Times proved a basic point:

They are still the editors!

No one forced them to quote from the blogs and the tweets of students caught in the midst of demonstrations.  They did it carefully,  and with the clear belief that “the amateurs” helped fill-in the details of the complex story they were covering.

And what do you know? The amateurs didn’t overrun quality journalism. They didn’t replace it. They became an indispensable part of the mix.

In the end, all these new-fangled news sources from the street turned out to be  not all that different from the old stodgy, official sources: You look at them, judge their validity, decide when they can be embedded in a larger story, and either use them or not use them. Of course, you have to be cautious, very cautious, but  —  in the end — you are still the editor.