After Mumbai Attacks, Indians Turn to Twitter
Saturday, November 29, 2008 07:50:01 PM
As fierce fighting continued between soldiers and those behind this week’s attacks in India’s southern port city of Mumbai, so did the frenzy of Twitter messages complaining about how media were covering the event.
Twitter is a highly popular micro-blogging site, which boasts a membership of 6 million worldwide. Messages can either be sent online or via SMS, providing the faster sending, uploading and exchange of information.
Among the most popular posts by Twitter users is how reporters from the mainstream media, both foreign and local, were putting lives in danger by revealing on air vital and sensitive information about planned military operations against the attackers holed up in the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels.
"These idiots on CNN-IBN relaying now that the commandos are combing the 3rd floor. Stop it!." said an exasperated Tweeter with the username nishant842.
CNN-IBN is a 24-hour English-language news channel set up in Delhi by Indian media conglomerate Global Broadcast News in partnership with Turner International, which produces Cable News Network (CNN). India Broadcast News (IBN) is GBN's flagship news channel brand.
A Twitter user named Sampad put in another reminder: "Let's not forget that the media have to be more responsible when announcing any sensitive information. We are being watched always."
For three days, Mumbai was gripped by fear following the brazen, synchronised attacks that began on the night of Nov 26, when armed militants stormed and strafed at least six locations in the city, including the Taj Mahal and Oberoi hotels, a Jewish centre, hospitals, and the railway station. By Saturday, at least 195 people were killed and about 295 wounded in the attacks, Indian media reports said.
A group calling itself Deccan Mujahideen claimed responsibility for the attacks on Nov. 27, but made no further statements. As in past attacks in India, Indian officials blamed "external" forces, a thinly disguised reference to neighbouring Pakistan.
The Twitter warnings stemmed from reports that the attackers were carrying laptops and other gadgets that supposedly allowed them to monitor the soldiers' movements online. Said Tweeter rohitnalwade: "Terrorists were monitoring media through their Blackberries."
Other bloggers lashed out at the Indian media for doing a "pathetic job".
In his post entitled 'Pennies Prevail Over Prudence', blogger Veetrag called the media "irresponsible" and "sensational".
"I am watching TV channels — NDTV, IBN-CNN, India TV, Sahara Samay, Star News and many others and have realised that none of them are doing their job properly," said Veetrag. Among the ineptness that the blogger complained about included the media's penchant for providing sensitive information, shooting close-ups of injured people instead of helping them, and their lack of sensitivity towards released hostages in the quest for headline news.
"It's not even minutes that the lady has come out of such horrible situation and our reporter is asking silly questions... and pushing her to the point that she starts crying."
At the same time, Twitter users are also being requested to be careful about revealing sensitive information.
In a 'Times Online' article, 'Citizen Journalists Told to Stop Using Twitter to Update on Bombay Attacks' on Nov 27, Indian authorities asked Tweeters to stop posting updates for security reasons. "They fear Tweeters are giving away strategic information to terrorists via Twitter,” said the report.
Some users, though, defend the mainstream media. User ajitonline believes that the "media are, in general, observing a partial blackout of details and that the reporters are actually quite away from where the real fighting is."
Others, meanwhile, complained that the TV networks were showing reports that wee 12 hours old, in contrast to Twitter's minute-by-minute updates. In fact, Twitter is said to produce at least 80 messages per second.
It is so fast that even international broadcast networks like the BBC and CNN have taken notice of the buzz at Twitter. CNN, in fact, began quoting Twitter updates as one of their sources.
"In spite of all the criticisms levied on the media, we should thank them for the technology they use to give us live feeds," added ajitonline.
Not a few people noticed the lack of what they call "user generated content". Perhaps it was the suddenness of the attacks, so that people still haven't shaken off the shock enough to write their reflections. Or maybe a lot of things were happening all at once that most of their time were spent glued to the television.
For Gaurav Mishra, Yahoo! Fellow in Residence for the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University, the lack of entries on popular sites like Flickr and YouTube was quite telling. "Lots of people are Tweeting, who would have blogged otherwise. Very few people have tried to put together a narrative on their blogs," he told Journalism.co.uk in an interview.
With the rapid turn of events in the Mumbai attacks, people do not really have the luxury of sitting in front of their computers and getting their thoughts together. Twitter, said Misha, is the perfect tool for emergencies like these for it allows for a "quicker dissemination of information".
Indeed, Twitter users began forming themselves into volunteer groups to help transcribe a list of the injured and casualties. Others began posting hotline numbers of hospitals while some repeatedly 'Tweeted' calls for blood donations.
Such prompted Tweeter Sampad to declare that Twitter and social networks "have made the world a close-knit family".
Crisis situations in the age of cyberspace serve as a catalyst for total strangers to bond together. Mumbai blogger Dina Mehta, in an interview with CNN, tried to explain this phenomenon by saying that online sites give people a common platform with which to help people in need.
"People are angry here. They want to do something and help in some way. What these online sites have been doing is to allow us to mobilise. There's no leader here, just everyone pouring in and doing their bit," she said. (Lynette Lee Corporal / Asia Media Forum)