Long Tail vs. Wrong Tale

After Murad Ahmed wrote Citizen journalists told to stop using Twitter to update on Bombay attacks in TimesOnline, and David Stephenson blogged a similar concern, Bruce Schneier responded with Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad. Specifically,

  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.

I’m sure there was wrong information coming across Twitter during recent California fires as well. But whenever bad things happen — whether caused by bad luck or bad people — good will and good people out-care and out-perform the bad.

The best mainstream media piece I’ve read yet about this topic is Citizen Journalists Provided Glimpses of Mumbai Attacks, by Brian Setzer and Noam Cohen in the New York Times. The first four grafs:

  From his terrace on Colaba Causeway in south Mumbai, Arun Shanbhag saw the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower Hotel burn. He saw ambulances leave the Nariman House. And he recorded every move on the Internet.

  Mr. Shanbhag, who lives in Boston but happened to be in Mumbai when the attacks began on Wednesday, described the gunfire on his Twitter feed — the “thud, thud, thud” of shotguns and the short bursts of automatic weapons — and uploaded photos to his personal blog.

  Mr. Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said he had not heard the term citizen journalism until Thursday, but now he knows that is exactly what he was doing. “I felt I had a responsibility to share my view with the outside world,” Mr. Shanbhag said in an e-mail message on Saturday morning.

  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.

Actually, a new medium. And a new methodology. And a new way to invest the best, far more than the worst, in human nature.

2 comments

  1. Mike Warot’s avatar

    I’ve recently come across a term definition and explanation that I think might really help us realize what the World Live Web really is.

    Radical Novelty

    E.W. Dijkstra chose the term to help him describe a particular choice facing educators in the field of Computer Science in 1988.

    Coping with radical novelty requires an orthogonal method. One must consider one’s own past, the experiences collected, and the habits formed in it as an unfortunate accident of history, and one has to approach the radical novelty with a blank mind, consciously refusing to try to link it with what is already familiar, because the familiar is hopelessly inadequate. One has, with initially a kind of split personality, to come to grips with a radical novelty as a dissociated topic in its own right. Coming to grips with a radical novelty amounts to creating and learning a new foreign language that can not be translated into one’s mother tongue. (Any one who has learned quantum mechanics knows what I am talking about.) Needless to say, adjusting to radical novelties is not a very popular activity, for it requires hard work. For the same reason, the radical novelties themselves are unwelcome.

    By now, you may well ask why I have paid so much attention to and have spent so much eloquence on such a simple and obvious notion as the radical novelty. My reason is very simple: radical novelties are so disturbing that they tend to be suppressed or ignored, to the extent that even the possibility of their existence in general is more often denied than admitted.

    We’re all searching around trying to find just the right analogy to describe the internet to make it easier to digest for others… perhaps this is not the right path to take. The internet and the live web that resulted is a radical novelty.

    I hope this makes sense… I’ve been sick the last few days.

    –Mike–

  2. Adrian Monck’s avatar

    “[W]henever bad things happen — whether caused by bad luck or bad people — good will and good people out-care and out-perform the bad.”

    History has plenty of examples to counter this optimism…

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