Move over, old media
The terror attack on the Boston Marathon last week once again demonstrated the impact of both the Internet and social networks on our lives. Social networks, in which users exchange information in real time, is quickly becoming the official alternative to television, and in the not-too-distant future new media will replace old media as a primary information source.
Anyone who wanted to connect quickly to what was going down in Boston was able to receive photographs, video clips and updates directly from the scene. Even the terrorist himself used Twitter to update his followers. True, we’re still in a transition period in which old media, like television, also use the Internet to keep their viewers updated. But one day all television viewers will have Twitter and other social media accounts, and there will no longer be a need for that. A quick Twitter search, and you’ll be able to get live updates from key sources at the scene.
In addition to status updates and YouTube clips uploaded by ordinary citizens, there were CCTV cameras stationed throughout Boston that helped the primary mission of tracking down suspects (Boston police requested and received help from citizens who had snapped photographs). Videos from those cameras were even uploaded to the Internet and delivered instantaneous images of the attack to viewers around the world. Nothing like that had ever happened before. It’s important to mention that the use of cameras throughout Boston once again raised the issue of citizens’ privacy versus security needs during times of terror threats.
The chase after the terrorists at MIT and the curfew imposed on millions of Bostonians later also fueled the massive use of social networks, helping paint a picture of what was happening on the ground moment by moment.
That is how I, here in Israel, was able to obtain a “live report” from a friend by following his status updates as well as the photos he had uploaded on Instagram.
Residents under curfew were not the only source of information. Those who were interested could even get Twitter updates from the terrorist himself. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was arrested after the Boston police put the city under siege, used the handle “Jahar” on Twitter.
“Ain’t no love in the heart of the city, stay safe people,” he wrote following the bombing.
It’s not by accident that he mixed elements of African American and popular culture into his status updates, as if he were the Joker, that psychopathic clown from Batman.
Dzhokhar’s last tweet is a retweet of religious commentary by Mufti Ismail Menk of Zimbabwe: “Attitude can take away your beauty, no matter how good looking you are, or it could enhance your beauty, making you adorable.”
As the operation to capture the terrorists wound to a close, it was memorialized by citizens’ personal cameras. Very quickly, bloggers took these photos and pieced together a timeline of what had transpired.
The Internet’s great achievement is to create a flow of information that is bottom up, instead of the top-down hierarchy of old media that broadcast to a passive audience. In the new media climate, citizens are part of the fabric of information. And the social networks are the means of production of news.