How to Plug Into A Crisis
(Or, how to be a Stephensonian Gargoyle.*)
I know a little bit about this. In November 2008, I was using Twitter (before it was big) to live narrate the Mumbai attacks. Real-time analysis in 140 character counts (the graph is how small Twitter was), distilling multiple video and audio feeds, and even talking to people on the ground. All in two to three languages. It worked. I got some media play (PBS, radio etc).
More importantly, people like you and me found it useful. It taught me a lot about the information terrain. Over the last four years, I’ve kind of gotten good at it. Even built a product that helps others be great at it. Some basics follow.
Here are the background components:
- Audio. Listen in to the police streams. Here’s a link.
- Video. Keep a TV on in the background – in this case, the Weather Channel is better than CNN. Find people on the ground though with cameras. Here’s one New Yorker.
Keep these on and in the background. Stuff will jump out at you. Tweet that. Which brings us to Twitter.
- Contrary to popular opinion, the best sources aren’t necessarily on the ground or even in the same country.
- Try different languages. You may get access to something unique.
- Search for keywords. “Holy shit” works as well as “underwater.”
- People are the best aggregators. Pulse and Flipboard etc are beyond useless during a real event.
- When you find someone through the aggregator, follow them. Repeat.
And above all, be a source. Tweet what you know and what you learn and what could be. If someone says you were wrong, tweet that too. It’s not your job to verify. You’re a transmission medium. You’re slaving your cognitive capacity to the global hive.
It’s their responsibility to figure out what’s chaff and what isn’t.
That is somewhat controversial. (I say that because I’ve been yelled at for it, consistently, every time I’ve done this.) There are people who will whine at you for not adhering to some arcane notion of journalistic integrity. It’s bullshit.
That’s a philosophy when information was in the hands of the few, it was expensive to generate, expensive to transmit. This is the world of the impossibly complex. Information abundance. Responsibilities shift. You matter. Go matter.
*Gargoyles represent the embarrassing side of the Central Intelligence Corporation. Instead of using laptops, they wear their computers on their bodies, broken up into separate modules that hang on the waist, on the back, on the headset. They serve as human surveillance devices, recording everything that happens around them. [Snowcrash 123-124, ]
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