Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad
Twitter was a vital source of information in Mumbai:
News on the Bombay attacks is breaking fast on Twitter with hundreds of people using the site to update others with first-hand accounts of the carnage.
The website has a stream of comments on the attacks which is being updated by the second, often by eye-witnesses and people in the city. Although the chatter cannot be verified immediately and often reflects the chaos on the streets, it is becoming the fastest source of information for those seeking unfiltered news from the scene.
But we simply have to be smarter than this:
In the past hour, people using Twitter reported that bombings and attacks were continuing, but none of these could be confirmed. Others gave details on different locations in which hostages were being held.
And this morning, Twitter users said that Indian authorities was asking users to stop updating the site for security reasons.
One person wrote: “Police reckon tweeters giving away strategic info to terrorists via Twitter”.
I can’t stress enough: people can and will use these devices and apps in a terrorist attack, so it is imperative that officials start telling us what kind of information would be relevant from Twitter, Flickr, etc. (and, BTW, what shouldn’t be spread: one Twitter user in Mumbai tweeted me that people were sending the exact location of people still in the hotels, and could tip off the terrorists) and that they begin to monitor these networks in disasters, terrorist attacks, etc.
This fear is exactly backwards. During a terrorist attack—during any crisis situation, actually—the one thing people can do is exchange information. It helps people, calms people, and actually reduces the thing the terrorists are trying to achieve: terror. Yes, there are specific movie-plot scenarios where certain public pronouncements might help the terrorists, but those are rare. I would much rather err on the side of more information, more openness, and more communication.