Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

Summary: We have individuals running amok with information and we have no way of knowing if what is reported via social media is true. And in situations like the response to the Mumbai attacks, this presents bona fide danger.


The devastation in Mumbai has been top-of-mind and top-of-the-news over the last few days – with good reason. It's also been the hottest trending topic on Twitter and covered widely as the latest disaster to be live broadcasted via tweet.

Sadly, the people writing about how cool it is that people are live tweeting the events in Mumbai are missing a huge point. What's happening now -- and what is happening in Mumbai -- is bigger than all of us. It’s bigger than communicating via Twitter. It’s bigger than just reading blogs. This is where social media grows up.

Social media is providing the ability to report and take in unfiltered news in a more direct way than ever before possible and we’re doing it on a mass scale. It's no longer just a toy for early adopters and Internet nerds; it's taking its place as an influencer far beyond technology. There is, however, a downside: there’s very little way to know what is true and what is rumor. As fellow ZDNet-er Michael Krigsman said to me the night, "we're trading off potential accuracy for immediacy."

He's right. On one hand, social media shows the wisdom of crowds while at the same time demonstrates the reactionary failures of the crowd.

One example: Do a Twitter Search for the hashtag #mumbai and you'll find thousands of tweets from folks near the site of the tragedy as well as folks in other countries who are offering support. People are sharing locations where blood is needed, police activity that they are witnessing, and the health status of their family and friends. This is good, minus one little point in there – the police activity. These updates have begotten seemingly urgent warnings from users reporting that the government of India is asking people to stop reporting on police movement (that includes Twitter users, bloggers and television stations) due to the fear of the terrorists using the tools to glean information. Those not tweeting for the omission of police details are calling it a hoax.

Is it so far-fetched to believe that terrorists could be tracking Twitter or social media sites as part of their overall intelligence efforts? The U.S. Army doesn't seem to think so. Last month it was broadly covered that the U.S. Army issued a report in which it claimed Twitter could be used as a terrorist tool. Many mocked this concept but I believe that mockery shows a bit of ignorance as to how any site or online communications tool could be effectively leveraged for evil – as demonstrated by cyber warfare. And look at how many articles and business decisions have stemmed from a 140-character thought over the last two years. It's not so shocking that this technology can be used for evil as well as good.

My point isn’t to determine whether or not terrorists can use social media to get a leg up on their attacks. My point is that we have individuals running amok with information and we have no way of knowing if what is reported via user-generated social media is true. And in situations like the response to the Mumbai attacks, this presents bona fide danger. Remember the "roving gang" rumors that spread and created panic after Hurricane Katrina? This chaos was aided during a time when electronic communications were down. If social media had been as prevalent as it is now, it might've been worse.

Some cynics might say, “Jen, we’ve had this issue with mainstream news media for years. Yellow journalism?” To me, social media presents greater risks, as every single person with Internet access now has the power to report. And with such surges of information our filters for discerning truth from sensationalism are cluttered.

Next: Beyond sensationalism -->

Beyond sensationalism, social media can be wrongfully leveraged as a fear tactic or a platform for hidden agendas. With most social networks there are no immediate content controls. An example of this is the Wikipedia page covering the Mumbai attacks. Impressive that the page was created so quickly, but it demonstrates the lack of controls I mentioned a minute ago. For a short time on Wednesday night, this is the only information that appeared on the page:

Mumbai attacks highlight the sketchy side of social media

As social media grows to take on the issues of the world beyond the bubble of Silicon Valley, we early adopters need to consider how to balance the flood of information. This goes back to the age-old argument of the ethics of journalists vs. bloggers and their ethics, but it now extends to every person. We need to take what's happening during the Mumbai tragedy and create an example of what to do and what not to do. While some controls are needed, one of the biggest benefits of social media is its transparency and freestyle communication, so is it even possible to control it at this point? Perhaps the train has left the station. Social media is complementing traditional media, and while this is new and exciting now, it's going to boom in the next few years. As the communications increase so will the risks of fallacies. We owe it to ourselves to find the balance between excess communication and truth.

Thanks to Krigsman for the Wikipedia screen shot – and for lighting a fire under me to write this in the first place.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • too much BS, I ignore it

    On one hand is too much contradiction in the news that I even stopped paying attention to.
    On the other hand hundreads of people were dying in Iraq every day last year and the media did not make any big fuss about it.
    Linux Geek
    • So?

      [i]On the other hand hundreads of people were dying in Iraq every day last year and the media did not make any big fuss about it.[/i]

      hasta la Vista, bah-bie
      • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

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  • 1st tweets

    #Mumbai ~ 1st Tweets Timeline & Chart...
  • Social Media => Social Conscience?

    Maybe, just maybe, the fact that we can blog about
    anything at all will make us ALL more responsible - ie
    those who blog and those who we blog about. There are
    consequences to everything we do and we will all have
    to be more aware of this as we explore the use of
    social media. Maybe social media will become our
    social conscience as long as it remains unabridged
    (and we all grow up)? Sadly I feel that the blogged
    will continue to exploit the blogger for the
    furthering of their own aims for some time to come.
  • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

    I suspect the revision represented by the screen grab lasted less than a minute, and was a revision that deleted all previous content and replaced it with "Bush Sucks." The next revision would be a "revert", where the vandal's work is undone. This happens all the time in Wikipedia, and does not represent a fatal flaw IMO.

    Interesting that you don't respond to friendly attempts at clarification elsewhere.
    • Don't make excuses

      Social media will be ready for prime time when it doesn't require excuses. Right now, social media is at an early evolutionary stage: that's fine, since it's great today, with all its flaws. Still, all this represents a harbinger of things to come, which I think is the real issue.

      Can you imagine someone saying pages of the New York Times periodically are vandalized on a regular basis, but it's okay because they fix it quickly?

      Quite frankly, the length of time during which the screen was displayed (which neither of us know) is irrelevant.
      • excuse who

        I'm not excusing Wikipedia. And I'm not about to excuse ignorance of how the mechanism works.
  • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

    If ZDNet wants to cover the breaking news "wikipedia can be defaced" fine. Otherwise page 2 of this article is very unfair and has nothing at all to do with Mumbai.
  • ZDNet vs. Wikipedia

    I will eagerly anticipate articles from ZDNet on how wikipedia has attained the success it has now, and what can be improved.

    I will not entertain casual sniping at one of the best examples of a massive collaborative effort to date.

    I wonder if Jennifer, and others at ZDNet would care to take an "official" anti-wikipedia position, and explain that this in no way is affected by business motives and an erosion of the authority of such as ZDNet. Looking forward to it!
    • Wow

      I just responded to you on FriendFeed. As I've made very transparent via social media, I've been in the hospital since Friday due to a heart condition. This was not a priority.

      Your "friendly" comment was accusatory. You made assumptions based on what I did not say, making it seem that I evaded a question when I answered the question you asked. There was no evasion. Perhaps your question was unclear. Also, writing a blog trying to linkbait readers by calling me wrong is not friendly, either, but I still would've responded earlier had I not been so sick.

      As Mike pointed out, you're missing the point. I am not bashing Wikipedia. I did not say anything negative about Wikipedia. It has everything to do with Mumbai. It represents the problems that can arise when there are a lack of controls. Yes, Wikipedia has controls, but clearly they failed for a split second. But the point is about the errors and issues that can come about during a time of crisis, and how people take advantage of such crises to try to push their own agendas. If we're truly going to address the issues we need to not worry about our allegiances to different sites and focus on the core issue -- people abusing social media and mainstream media's fallacies as well.

      Let's keep our eye on the ball.
      Jennifer Leggio
      • Nothing new

        "But the point is about the errors and issues that can come about during a time of crisis, and how people take advantage of such crises to try to push their own agendas."

        Mainstream media has been doing this for years. News papers and governments have been doing it for centuries. What?s new is we get to have misinformation before the powers that be can decide we need it.
      • OK - Lets keep our eye on the ball

        Jennifer, I see the point of the poster you answered.
        Your entire article really has nothing to do with has to do with the [b]reporting[/b] of
        the events in Mumbai, which the previous poster has apparently missed. You bring up very valid points and
        concerns. Keep it up.
    • Whats with the attitude?

      I can't see anything in the article that supports a reason for you're attitue/anger.

      Her article suggests nothing about Wikipedia being bad or mechanically flawed. Or does the fact she mentioned twitter mean the same as you suggest about Wikipedia? Success doesn't mean perfection either by the way - ask any of the linux fans here in regards to their opinions about Windows.
  • Bring on the #Moron filter

    I think the the Mumbai Twitter coverage demonstrates how far we have to go in terms of maturation. Much of the 'tweetage' was just noise. Much was hateful. A depressing amount was just about bigging up Twitter and social media - as if the real battle was Twitter vs CNN. I wrote two blog posts about it, one on the night - you'll find it here:; and another just now proposing some ways of dealing with these problems in the future, that you'll find here:
  • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

    I would like to extend my sincere sympathies and condolences to the bereaved Families and prayers and thoughts to all affected by this attack

    This is totally unfair; innocent Lives being cruelly snatched by perpetrators of such condemnable actions

    "When" will the perpetrators of such condemnable actions ever understand that by committing such actions, they are literally committing the very most sinful of actions!

    It only leaves one more confused, perplexed and wondering in amazement with so many questions unanswered as to Why, Why and Why are such actions taking place? What do the perpetrators achieve?
    Why don't they realize and understand that the World needs Peace, Love, Progress and Prosperity; that when they first contribute and invest in Peace and Love can they expect to reciprocate likewise, "When" will they ever learn?

    Life is extremely Precious and when the perpetrators just take decisions and commit unforgivable actions; they only foster more repulsion and disgust at what they are seeking to demonstrate.

    By committing such actions, they are only creating more hatred for themselves primarily; as well as further distancing and surrounding themselves with a vicious circle of further infinite hatred

    At this crucial moment, where we stand at the cross roads of doing our very best to comprehend the reasons for these condemnable actions; it is sincerely Hoped that decisive resolutions are identified whereby they are able to facilitate an effective mitigation right from the core roots of these elements, where they emerged.

    "Understanding" the core elements relating to this process is one of the strategic and instrumental keys in effectively managing and regulating the process instead of solely combatting since the first process is to establish a platform upon which a firm foundation could be built; the foundation of Universal Hope, Peace, Trust, Love, Peace, Harmony, Progress and Prosperity

    It is pursuing an hopeful and practical process; whereby anticipating, innovating and embarking onto pursuing a practical approach for adeptly and resolutely dealing with such type of condemnable actions is being encouraged; Alas what has occurred cannot be recuperated, but the sacrifice that has been made by several innocent victims over the years reminds us and encourages us to stringently identify resolutions that could effectively harness the various factors effectively and implement a resolute approach in dealing / combatting with such condemnable actions decisively and practically.

    It is more easily said than done; but every step taken in the direction of seeking to identify each resolution is essential and imminently approaching

    Evolution is testament and holds evidential records of various events that have occurred and it is our duty to educate and inspire the concerned to seek to "Recognize" and "Understand" the immense potential value of each and every Life, since Life is extremely Precious and Splendid; and can "NEVER" be snatched away by these type of cowardly actions on any pretext or instance whatsoever.

    Each and Everyone has the rightful privilege to Live and cannot become subject to what perpetrators of such condemnable actions think and decide, it is absolutely very wrongful, punishable to the maximum possible extents and unpardonable; (Although the deviation is there when reference is made to referring to the aspect of punishment, it is but natural that when all steps that are taken to make the concerned understand the significance and importance of reality and when they refuse to understand and persistently seek to establish their own agendas, then in such contexts, this is NOT permissible since there has to be Universal Harmony, Peace and Love that is accorded contentious precedence and pre dominance since the Universe provides us and bestows us each and every Moment with the very finest of virtues but when there is an interruption or attempts made by perpetrators to change the course of what is being manifested Universally, then the perpetrators are naturally SUBJECT to pay a price for their irresponsible actions, face the consequences; they need to be accountable and responsible and essentially "Understand" that defying the Universal Principles, The Laws of Nature is having a price that NEEDS to be paid)

    It is not only retribution alone, it is fairness where no sides are taken, but what is just and unjust; since Nature never discriminates or favors one over another; but tends to remind and make one aware time and again that it makes one pay for one's wrong deeds whether now or later; but definitely has its own way of compensating those that have been made to endure and face unfortunate events due to the mindless actions taken by perpetrators; the distinguishing of those that are right and those that are wrong is already being journalized / recorded and will seek accountability accordingly.

    I shall summarize the above comments on this note since it is an extensive appeal that consistently seeks to kindle the Hope for establishing Universal Hope, Peace, Trust, Love, Peace, Harmony, Progress and Prosperity; If a reference has been made to certain tendencies that reflect accountability, this is natural, since every action that is taken is linked and bound to result in a reaction; so every action that is taken must be carefully assessed and taken explicitly on the basis of establishing Universal Hope, Peace, Trust, Love, Peace, Harmony, Progress and Prosperity; it is the pursuit of a mutual process and not solely for suiting one's agenda alone!

    With sincere Hopes, Thoughts and Humble Prayers,
    Vashi Ram Chandi
    • You miss the "Point" of terrorism

      The whole point of terrorism is to get noticed by the
      broadest spectrum of society. Terrorist do not care
      [b] what[/b] you think of them, as long as you think
      [b]about[/b] them. This concept of 'Notice Me' was
      most succinctly put by P.T. Barnum (who was not a
      terrorist, of course) who said "I don't what they
      print about me as long as they spell my name right."

      So, really, when the new media (social and main-
      stream) report on a terrorist incident, they are doing
      exactly what the terrorists want - and a case could be
      made that in doing so, they are abetting the

      This is a classic conundrum, to which I have no
  • Major media is full of bias and manipulation

    The same people who blindly follow one news network or paper because it appeals to them on an emotional level will probably do the same with social media. Major newspapers and cable news have options covering the political spectrum if you just want to blindly pick a side. The major media "filters" are usually slanted and manipulative. I'm sure that social media scares the heck out of them. I agree that the development of social media is a mixed bag of good and bad. Hopefully part of the good will be much needed checks and balances against today's media giants.
  • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

    If the CDC can track influenza outbreak via Google, then of course terrorists can glean information from Titter. Not everything the police try to suppress is bad; sometimes it is for protection of the good. You're right on target.
  • RE: Mumbai attack coverage demonstrates (good and bad) maturation point of social media

    I'm sorry to have to ask, but who reported on WMD? Bloggers? Twitterers? The Journalists' ethics you mention can't really be all that different from the values that all human beings must bring forward when talking to other fellow human beings: truthfulness with just enough kindness around it.