Are we asking the right questions?

by Dina on December 3, 2008 · 9 comments

in Participatory Media,Social Media,Social Tools in Disasters

A whole lot of questions are being asked about whether the Twitter #mumbai feed was citizen journalism or not. Many ‘sides’ are emerging in this debate. I found this post (thru’ a tweet by @MaryHodder) which asks How Should Journalists Use Twitter? I’m not so sure it’s the right question to be asking … here’s what I said in a comment there:

“I was one of those Tweeting the terror attacks from my apartment in Mumbai, which was about 8 kms away from the centre of the attacks. When I began tweeting about what I was seeing on tv (yes) and re-tweeting accounts others were talking of from the ground, I don’t think there was any conscious intention for the twitter stream to become a source of citizen journalism. We were sharing our confusion, our shock, our sadness, our rage. We also then began sharing useful information around injured lists and what was required by hospitals as they emerged. Some twitterers in Mumbai were on the ground sending updates from hospitals and from the centre of the attacks.

That tools like twitter, blogs, flickr enabled this spontaneous outpouring of emotion, information, rumours, panic, confusion, anger is quite amazing to me. The twitter #mumbai stream reflected all these nuances as we experienced them. If this isn’t a form of reporting, tell me why. I do believe it brought a real (face to the) horror to the terror attacks to the world, where people could empathize with what was going on. India is not alone in its fight against terrorism. Just yesterday, I wrote in a commentary at CNN:

“The “we” I speak of is not an organization but a loosely joined community. We are bonded, and I truly believe that in the face of utter horror, wherever it might occur, we have a strong pillar in this emotional connection we feel as equal human beings and not in our narrow identities prescribed by nationality or religion or race or gender. This is an evolving revolution sparked by how people are using social tools on the Web.”

That’s the revolution really – the discourse must shift from an argument about one vs the other into a discourse around how social tools are allowing people to channel their emotions and harness them to mobilize into action. It’s not a war nor an either-or between MSM and citizen reporting. We saw a symbiotic relationship between the two during this disaster. Each helped the other. MSM acknowledges it – look at the number of stories being done on how Twitter worked (or didn’t). Likewise with bloggers and tweeters, who leant on mainstream media as their source of information in many instances.”

The full piece I wrote for CNN is here – How social media shared pain and rage in Mumbai


See Neha’s roundup of posts in criticism of TV reporting during the crisis at Global Voices Online – don’t miss the comments there.

And Stuart’s call for counter-intuitive thinking.


{ 2 trackbacks }

Global Voices Online » India: Twitter vs. MSM
December 3, 2008 at 11:07 am
Global Voices in Italiano » India: Twitter e media mainstream
December 5, 2008 at 3:33 am

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 manuscrypts December 3, 2008 at 4:46 am

hmm, i would also look at the topic in another way.. while twitter started with ‘what are you doing’, we have been using it to share our emotions, things that happen to/around us, links, pictures and discussing things that are of interest to us.. and built trust based communities around these..
the significance is that in this case, many individuals had first hand content that no single channel would have been able to aggregate so fast, the things that ‘interested’ us was suddenly ‘news’, or information that interested an audience that went beyond twitter.. a sort of reverse long tail effect? my point – twitter has always been news, its only the size of the interested audience that changed..
so how should journalists use twitter – simple, forget the journalist identity, be human, gain trust, and use it as you will.. its a self correcting system anyway 🙂

2 Harshad December 3, 2008 at 1:40 pm

Well said! Twitter is the equivalent of many different concepts of communication, but I see it closest to amateur radio, and the #mumbai stream was a proof of this. Just as amateur radio was never a competition to main stream communication/media but more of an auxiliary.

3 Shefaly December 3, 2008 at 1:44 pm


For mainstream media, a more copious source of raw data was never available, not instantaneously any way. What I can see is that they are struggling to wrap their heads around it. My post analysing the characteristics that make Twitter amenable to disaster/ crisis related usage has been re-blogged/ referenced into several graduate journalism courses in the USA, just like that. I am guessing they are doing what a client said to me he was going to do – ‘get on Twitter and get with the zeitgeist’.

Then again, I have lived and worked in Delhi, Calcutta and Bangalore. I am twirling this question in my head and the answer keeps coming up ‘negative’ – Would Twitter have been used so widely if the attacks were in Delhi, or Calcutta? About Bangalore I am not sure (And this is going to make me so many friends!)

I do agree that it is not an either-or. The symbiotic relationship is what may be called ‘the feeder system’ of Twitter.

Good post.

4 Gaurav Mishra December 3, 2008 at 3:01 pm

@Dina: Great CNN article. I have been building on Neha’s roundup of the role of Indian news media in the Mumbai terror attack.

5 Dina December 4, 2008 at 1:23 am

Manu, good points. Aggregation is what we really saw. Harshad … auxiliary or complement?

Shefaly, I have read your post and meant to comment there – its a cool analysis really. I like Twitter #mumbai Zeitgest! Am curious about your ruminations around what if it had happened in Delhi/Cal/Bangalore – my feeling is that the prolonged nature of the attacks – it went on for almost 3 days – and the singular focus of all media on just that would have made us react similarly. But that’s me and I tend to be idealistic often.

Thanks Gaurav for the link – its a cool aggregation!

6 Parivarthan December 5, 2008 at 9:39 pm

Are we asking the right questions? HELL NO.

I’m writing from Philadelphia PA after watching the Mumbai massacre unfold live on CNN, NDTV and Times Now. I am still very angry that my beloved India was attacked in this manner. I keep thinking about this in the shower, while driving to work and even in my meetings. So I came across this blog. Here’s my approach…

Start by asking the right questions:
• Why is it so easy for a group of armed kids to create so much bloodshed?
• Why wasn’t enough is enough used during the Bombay Bomb blasts in 1993?
• How many Terrorist attacks does it take for people in India to get ANGRY?
• Why did Hemant Karkare and his team ignore the Intel given to them by the US and IB?
• Did the ATS team have other priorities than investigating a possible sea based attack?
• Why do police/ATS personnel (officers/constables) carry around outdated rifles and service revolvers when Israeli and American Anti-Terrorism forces are given M16/M4 carbines?
.Why doesn’t the DRDO (Defence Research) co-ordinate with the ministry of External Affairs to get Technology transfer for the manufacture of M4 Carbines (Colt) from the US? (M4 carbines are presently used by the US Army in Afghanistan and Iraq)
• Why are some NSG commandoes carrying around 9 mm sten submachine guns which were used during the Korean war (1950’s)?
• Why does the Indian public get overtly angry when there’s a terrorist attack and then after a few months, goes back to watching Sas-bahu serials and Nach Baliye 4?
• Why aren’t more Indian Americans writing to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee who control the money and arms that goes to Pakistan, which gets distributed to Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT)?
• Why wasn’t India pushing for a ban on Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) (a Muslim charitable org) during the peace talks before the Mumbai massacre?
• Is ChandraYaan more important than providing arms and protective gear to our para military forces?

I sincerely request all Indian Americans and people of Indian Origin who pay taxes in India, to write to their senators and US representatives and ask to take immediate action against LeT/JuD and Pakistan.

7 Arun Shanbhag December 6, 2008 at 4:00 am

Hi DIna:
Nicely put! I too had to respond to one of the criticisms by their staff writer Megan Garber, and transcribed on my blog as well:

Nice meeting to, albeit for a brief time. Still here for a week. Best Wishes

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