Today’s twin bombings in Jakarta—their implications for Indonesia aside—should bring home to conventional media that social media is a multifaceted force, one that is evolving so quickly it’s fast becoming the primary channel that users tune in to for urgent news.
Some conclusions to draw from Jakarta (or are reinforced by the sad episode):
- Social media is not just about issues that concern the kind of things that people think social media type people are going to be interested in. This was a bomb that went off in a hotel in the developing world, not a pop star who died in California. Admittedly at the heart of the wealthy quarter of the country, but still not LA.
- The two tweets below could not really be faulted for their content. OK, the second one should perhaps be “explosion” until it’s confirmed that it’s a “bom”, but that’s a quibble. The 140 characters of twitter have already converted us—both user and consumer—into the headline/alert shorthand that was once the preserve of conventional media.
- TV was reporting a third bomb—and casualties—in north Jakarta long after a twitterer and his photo had shown it was not so. (I don’t have a timeline for that. Contributions welcome).
Lastly, friends and colleagues have made the point I’m stressing the timeliness of all this too much. They say who reports something first doesn’t matter. Well, in some ways that’s true. But a lot of conventional media still believe it to be so, indeed make that a key part of their business model. I highlight speed here because of the still prevailing sense that twitter is full of noise. To still think that is to fail to see how quickly the medium is evolving. The rise of hashtags, retweets and tools like tweetdeck has made it easier for anyone interested to monitor and contribute twitter—so much so that for many it’s the best way to:
- be alerted to the fact that something is going on/has happened
- update oneself quickly
- bypass news and newspaper sites that are often slowed down by traffic during a big event
- share the information with friends and others
- pursue and confirm/refute unconfirmed information
- and, perhaps most interestingly, expand one’s network of ‘information sharers’ so that the experience of watching an event becomes a social one. (Not as in cocktail party social, but in terms of sharing shock, grief, outrage etc, as in the case of the Jakarta bombing. We journalists tend to hide our feelings a lot but that’s not the case on Twitter. It helps to remind one that the casualties are real people, and the suffering being felt is by people who may be on the same vast network as yourself and reading your tweets.)
Here’s an initial timeline of how the story broke, from what I can gather (all times Jakarta time, WIB). Claims that eyewitnesses beat traditional media by 20 minutes are a little exaggerated—it was probably closer to 10 or 12.
0751 WIB: @dregar (Andre Siregar) “Something going in Mega Kuningan. Explosion? In Ritz CArlton and felt building shaking. Marriott hotel has some broken glasses”
0752 WIB:@danieltumiwa (Daniel Tumiwa) “Bom @ marriot and ritz Carlton kuningan jakarta”
These tweets were forwarded extensively.
The first conventional media coverage I can find is by Reuters, quoting local television, 15 minutes later (all timings are from Factiva. There may well be stories and updates missing):
0807 WIB: INDONESIA EXPLOSION HEARD, FELT AT RITZ-CARLTON KUNINGAN HOTEL IN JAKARTA -METRO TV
@BreakingNews put out their alert eight minutes after that:
0814 WIB: BULLETIN — EXPLOSIONS HITS NEAR JAKARTA’S MARRIOT HOTEL
Followed by two more, quoting the Associated Press.
AP itself put out a bulletin at 8.20 am (I couldn’t find the original despatch that BNO was quoting):
0820 WIB: Bombs explode at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott hotels in Indonesian capital; at least 3 injured
The Reuters fullout came out nine minutes after that:
0829: UPDATE 1-Explosions heard at two central Jakarta hotels –TV
Please correct any omissions. Just to stress, I’m not having a go at my colleagues in conventional media here. Just recording the sequence of events for future dissection.