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Tucson, Lessons Need To Stick…

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One of my new blog readers asked me to comment on the social media interactions related to the recent Tucson shooting tragedy.  It seemed that within minutes after the obviously deranged gunman was taken down, tweets started flowing.  My observations;

  • Tweets quickly seemed to coalesce around these categories; expressing horror and concern for the victims-especially Rep. Giffords, political comments ( Sarah Palin, gun control, border control, yadda yadda) and the emergency response.
  • I did not see tweets from the emergency response agencies early on.  But, then again I didn’t really expect to.  This was an epic event for any fire or law enforcement agency, and I’m sure they were just a tad busy.  BUT, it sure would have been great to have seen a few tweets noting the response effort and basic facts early on. Guessin’ they just didn’t have enough people at the scene to quickly organize information dissemination for the SM time zone.
  • Scene reports from witnesses and reporters painted a pretty good picture of what was happening.  Even though some of the reports of the  numbers of victims and perps were slightly different, most tweets were pretty darn close to the final tally and sequence of events.  This reflects the chaotic nature of an evolving community disaster, which means all information needs to be considered tentative rather than definitive until proven otherwise.  It also shows that even though specific facts may have been foggy, the observations painted this crystal clear picture;  a gunman had slain and injured over 10 victims, including a congresswoman in a public place, the gunman had been subdued alive, a large EMS/fire response was in play, including medical chopper transports, large PD deployment and  immediate national repercussions.
  • Internationally recognized news organizations like NPR and Reuters wrongly reported the death of a national figure.  Oops…. I can’t help but wonder if they felt pressure to “get the scoop” with sketchy information because of overwhelming demand for instant news.
  • Lots of discussion about whether the inaccurate death reports should have been removed from Twitter news sites, or simply corrected and left in place.  I’m not one who thinks anything posted on the web can really ever be removed.  But, I do think it can be, and should be, referenced and corrected ASAP.
  • Very early on, reports indicated to me that this was most likely the work of a mentally unbalanced individual, not a terrorist act.  The ongoing investigation and potential trial will reveal the truth.  But, I’m sticking with my initial hunch…  Sick individual with a gun and a grudge.
  • Tweeters – me included- were quick to retweet the death reports from what we considered to be trusted news sources… (I mean REUTERS for Heaven’s sake!)  I’m much more wary now.

A few days ago, tweets started coming in for a multiple shooting involving law enforcement officers in my region.  While monitoring tweets and news reports I noted a much more cautious approach in how our regional media outlets were reporting the story.  They were careful and deliberate in releasing initial news reports, using terms like “preliminary” and “unconfirmed”.  In addition, when concrete facts were reported/tweeted/released, the originator of the information was identified or noted as “unidentified”.  This clearly signaled the validity of the information. Early on, I tweeted my hope that those reporting (including tweeters) this story would confirm their information from other sources before passing it on  (me included).  One regional news anchor retweeted my note, obviously mindful of what had happened in Arizona.  Thankfully, I did not see any tweets speculating on the condition of the officers.

It seems that an important social media lesson was learned from Tucson.  Let’s hope it sticks.  Kudos to the NWFire and law enforcement agencies who handled the chaos.  Strong work.

Comments - Add Yours

  • http://www.twitter.com/danielhewitt Daniel

    Do you recall the originating source of original reports off the ground, in terms of SM? Was it KOLD13?

    I often try to trace tweets down to their source during breaking events as they occur. Kirby Arnold for the Everett Herald on the Niehaus passing; the Eiffel Tower bomb scare a few months hit Twitter via a source in Sao Paulo, of all places, etc. There was no time during the Giffords thing, but I can’t help but wonder … and it’s too late to work back on now.

    Was the *very* first (relevant) tweet related to the shooting factually incorrect, and did that tweet tip the scales and lead to the cascade of mis-information we saw the big media outlets contribute to?

    I suppose I’m mostly just curious, because I don’t imagine there is any way to apply protocol to this sort of thing in real-time.

    • B2

      No idea DH. My Tweetdeck feed went nuts, and I was in the middle of another project when this went down. From what I can recall, the first tweet I saw simply noted a bunch of people had been shot outside a supermarket. About as accurate as you can get at that early stage. Seems like the early tweets were fairly vague. But, once folks found out a Congresswoman was shot, the focus quickly shifted to speculation on her condition. Things spiraled downhill from there.

  • http://allhazards.blogspot.com David Wild

    Thanks for this interesting article! Again, it seems like SM was robust enough to “dampen down” misinformation and give a pretty good picture of the emerging situation. The reports of Giffords death would be fascinating to analyze in more detail – exactly how did that get to be reported by the media? Where did it start? How did it propogate? Could we have found counter-evidence on twitter? In a recent post ( http://allhazards.blogspot.com/2010/09/twitter-in-disasters-survival-of.html ) I discussed the possibility that Twitter might be self-correcting based on the Boulder wildfire (something of a gold-standard for Social Media!) but I am not confident of this at all – it seems like twitter should be a medium that could easily amplify misinformation, it just doesn’t seem to have done in recent cases.

    I think there is a need for intelligent software to aggregate and analyze tweets and look for both confirming and contradicting information.

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Totally agree David. I’m a strong advocate for open source tools related to complex event processing (“intelligent” software for emergency situational awareness). No doubt Twitter and other social media sites “amplify” correct information and misinformation. I suspect misinformation spreads quicker the more “sensational” it is.

  • http://www.northwestfire.org Katy Heiden

    Actually we did tweet the event even before our units were at the scene. The report was of multiple shooting victims and the initial tweets advised to avoid that area as emergency responders including helicopters were on their way and the streets (main arteries in our area) would be closed. This was before it was ascertained Giffords was involved, and there was no hashtag being used yet. What was really interesting was that at the scene, someone mentioned how twitter was going crazy with the incident, and instead of being encouraged to get accurate info out, the reaction was more of panic and I was told to cease all tweets regarding the incident. Still a ways to go with emergency agencies and SM.

    • http://chiefb2.wordpress.com chiefb2

      Thanks for the inside info Katy! Sounds like you guys were busy! We do have a lot of work to do on the SEM front. Again, I understand your folks did a great job in a critical high profile event. Congrats!

About chiefb2

Retired fire chief,Type 3 AHIMT IC, PIO. Current industrial services safety professional, social media emergency management disciple (no, I'm not a "guru"). Crisis communications consultant. Dad with an open wallet.