My writing doesn't often stray from design, tech or publishing-related news but as I find myself so deeply immersed in social media throughout my work and personal life, recent news events have forced my hand.
The awful attack on a British serviceman in Woolwich, South-east London yesterday was relayed to the world as the tragedy unfolded via Twitter. Through a combination of words, photos and videos, the terrorists, murderers (or whatever title they eventually fall under) were not only caught in the violent act but their admission of guilt and their misguided view of the people of this great country were recorded. Their fates were sealed.
I say misguided as they clearly haven't observed our resolve under previous threats and atrocities by mindless terrorist organisations. We don't bow to pressure, we don't like being told what to do and we certainly don't give in to fanaticism.
I have been critical of news organisations in the past for responding too slowly to major events. I'm not unreasonably expecting camera teams and reporters to rush to every false alarm, I'm just suggesting they give more power to the people. In much the same way a sherif deputises any number of law enforcement helpers, so the news networks should be quicker to jump on social networks and deputise the men and women on the street to open channels before they arrive on the scene.
The hunting of the Boston Marathon suspects was the perfect example of Twitter providing not only the up-to-the-minute coverage of the hunt for the Tsarnaev brothers but also the background and names of the suspects before any news networks. I was viewing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's social network profile page before many 'official' organisations had even identified him.
Understandably, criticism can be levelled at social reporting when this coverage lacks the filtering mechanism of good journalism. Fact-checking and the immediate threat of legal action are disregarded in favour of apparent sensationalism and personal opinion – in many cases inflammatory and counter-productive. However, Following the right people at the right time can make a real difference. As an event unfolds, take a (virtual) step backwards and try not to be swept up it the moment. Find the person on the scene, not the loudest voice.
Coverage via social channels not only uncovers the gruesome details but also highlights the incredible spontaneous bravery of the individuals we live amongst. Cub Scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett approached the Woolwich murderers and kept them distracted as the time approached when local school children would begin to file into the crowds on the high street. This took incredible courage and this one act highlights the resolve these senselessly violent acts, from Woolwich to Boston, face – and why they achieve nothing more that strengthen our resolve.