A blog post on MIT's (News - Alert) Technology Review asserts that Twitter is proving itself a valuable news source for covering disasters such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
"The evidence continues to pile up that Twitter is a news service, not a social network," Blogger Christopher Mims writes.
Mims points out that Twitter allows users to both post and access breaking news which is disseminated in real-time, giving it a distinct advantage over the major news media outlets, which must deal with at least some latency in their reporting. He also argues that Twitter offers better balance in disaster reporting because it blends citizen journalism with news reports from the major media outlets. Users who are located at or near the disaster area can post first-hand accounts of the disaster as it unfolds. In turn these "tweets" are increasingly being picked up by the major media outlets and are being 're-tweeted' by other users.
In addition Twitter allows users to continuously have their finger on the pulse of which news is being viewed as "most important" at a particular moment in time, through the number of "re-tweets." Articles and posts which are "re-tweeted" the most are inherently deemed important - i.e. it's another form of the democratization of journalism, where users decide on the prioritization of the news.
"A retweet is a signal that a particular piece of information is important," Mims states - however a commenter on his post points out that that there is no way of ensuring the accuracy of the information.
Mims cites two research studies shedding light on Twitter's role in emergency reporting and concludes that both reports "illustrate that while the synthesis and analysis tweets carried out by both journalists and citizens provides the most value for users, it is original reporting that ultimately makes all the secondary analysis possible."
An interesting question about Twitter and all Internet communications is how they might impact disaster response. While some might argue that they provide an ideal opportunity to deliver a faster and more coordinated response to natural disasters, one can also argue that it has not been the case so far.
Patrick Barnard is a senior Web editor for TMCnet, covering call and contact center technologies. He also compiles and regularly contributes to TMCnet e-Newsletters in the areas of robotics, IT, M2M, OCS and customer interaction solutions. To read more of Patrick's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Patrick Barnard