Twittering in Mumbai: Where Tech, Reporting and Terrorism Intersect

Interesting Times piece a few days ago about citizen journalism and the recent Mumbai terrorist attacks. It seems several bystanders used cellphone cameras, Twitter and texting to get details of the attack from inside cordoned off security zones and a raging firefight with the terrorists. This use of technology was particularly interesting as it spread news about the attacks much faster than any official information, or even mainstream media reports. As the Times perhaps somewhat existentially remarked:

The attacks in India served as another case study in how technology is transforming people into potential reporters, adding a new dimension to the news media.

While perhaps there are qualitative differences between the Twitter page of Arun Shanbhag (an assistant professor at Harvard Med who happened to be across the street from the Taj hotel when shooting erupted) and a fuller piece of reporting by a veteran journalist, the fact remains that Arun’s updates to Twitter and Flickr provided much more immediate access to the actual events than the recycled story about the Brooklyn rabbi which quickly flooded CNN. Even the rabbi’s story, it seems, was closely followed on Twitter by frightened members of his Hasidic congregation back in New York.

The phenomenon of citizen journalism as an effective conduit of information was well-documented during the Saffron Revolution in Burma. In fact, most of the details reaching Western news outlets were coming from grainy cameraphone pictures and rogue bloggers. The technological response to the recent attacks in Mumbai demonstrates greater technological sophistication. I’m sure that in large part this is because internet literacy and participation is much higher in India.

The possibilities of citizen journalism should therefore only continue to expand as knowledge and use of technology spreads.

I have been thinking about some remarks made recently at a Berkman luncheon by Atony Loewenstein, author of The Blogging Revolution. He suggested that blogs have a role to play in reducing the spin and distorted perspective not only of manipulative government mouthpieces, but also of the mainstream media as well.

It seems to me that something similar could be said of twittering in Mumbai. Citizen journalists can free us of the editorial lens inevitably a part of any major news source (whether liberal, conservative, philo-American or not, and so on). Indeed, to approximate reporting facts as nakedly as possible requires the rich and instant global connectivity which only the Internet can provide. Our picture of how events develop and conclude will be immeasurably complicated (but also enriched) by the dozens of individual perspectives writing news as it happens, clicking photos and, of course, twittering