If I need to confirm sudden news, it’s not uncommon for me to seek out information on my social feeds. Thus, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I have found out about most recent tragedies through social media; those outlets have become prime breaking news sources.
But it is surprising. While I’m young, I’m old enough to know how news traveled before the Internet became mainstream. If I had any knowledge of breaking news, it was because I had caught the news brief during the television commercials. Half a year ago, the Huffington post Twitter account let me know of the Sandy Hook shootings, within the peak of the attack. Two summers ago, I learned via Facebook that a midnight premiere of the new Batman film had been the scene of a terrible massacre. I had found out crucial information, all within real-time.
A few days ago – on the anniversary of 9/11 – the concept of social media as a news outlet brought me to think about what could’ve been twelve years ago, had social media been prevalent in 2001. What would we have known? It’s not improbable to think that perhaps we would have had a clearer picture of what happened in the planes whilst in the process of being hijacked. People in the towers might have known more and thus could’ve done more to save themselves. Could social media have greatly impacted that tragic day?
In terms of changing the overall outcome, I doubt it would have. Recent tragedies have not been halted or changed because of social outlets. While communication issues were a major problem during the attacks, at the rate of the unfolding of the events that morning the number of casualties may not have been drastically changed. It’s also worth noting that today’s news coverage has shifted towards being the first out with information, thus resulting in a large volume of false information. Given the scale of the attack, false information could’ve brought NYC into a larger, uncontrollable state of panic.
That said, what would’ve changed is the overall outlook, for better or worse. Had social media been present, much of the information known throughout the first few days might have been known within the first few hours. Thousands of personal perspectives would have been disposable to the public, only mere clicks away. Last thoughts, last prayers, and premature goodbyes might’ve taken over the web. Crucial information on loved ones may not have taken an unbearable amount of weeks. Detailed videos and images of crucial moments would rack up millions of views, within a matter of hours.
Had social media been around, the attacks would’ve been more personally beating. Vine videos of the detonation of the recent Boston Bombings make my heart sink. I wouldn’t know how I would react had Vine or other video apps been available then. Even now, watching the second plane hit the tower just overwhelms my emotions. I still cringe every time I hear bodies hit the ground on certain videos.
Likewise, I know that community and national unity would have conquered online. Moving, respectful images and words covered my social feeds on the anniversary. In spite of recent tragedy, social media communities have always gathered to support and send aid. While the web can be a place for anonymous negativity, recent history has shown that epic, whole-hearted good can result as well. The healing process would have been made much more impactful.
Frankly, I hope this concept remains as just a speculative thought and that we never find an answer. Social media has no way of stopping tragedies, it’s not a superhero. What it can do in wake of tragedies is affect how we view them. What social media does is provide the tools, resources, and most importantly an audience for information to travel through. Had it existed on that fateful Tuesday, it would have done just that.