Twitter and the shark attack

Picture by hermanusbackpackers on Flickr published under a Creative Commons license

Picture by hermanusbackpackers on Flickr published under a Creative Commons license

Very nice piece over on my mate Steve Pike’s Wavescape site which looks at the eyewitness effect of Twitter during Tuesday’s shark attack at Fish Hoek in Cape Town. Write Steve aka Spike:

When National Sea Rescue Institute Station Commander Darren Zimmerman was telling journalists just after the attack, which occurred at around 3.15pm, that he was unable to provide more information, Facebook and Twitter were being flooded with eye witness accounts.

“I am with the patient right now and will provide more details later,” he told the media. However, numerous accounts of the attack appeared almost immediately on Twitter and Facebook.

“Holy shit, we just saw a GIGANTIC shark eat what looked like a person right in front of our house in fishhoek. Unbelievable,” wrote False Bay surfer and K Bay local Gregg Coppen in the first of a flurry of tweets from his home overloooking Fish Hoek main beach.

I went and had a look at Gregg’s feed and you can see how that tweet took off like wildfire, being retweeted, picked up by mainstream media and eventually making its way into news reports. Rapidly a #sharkattack hashtag was adopted on twitter as more accounts and commentary developed. Quite interesting to note also on this hashtag search how rapidly bad taste jokes starting flying around too with references being made to the attack being xenophobic and possibly linked to 2010!

The power of Twitter as an eyewitness tool is highlighted in this tragedy. Was this the munch-vaunted citizen journalism that we hear of so often? No, I don’t think so. These tweets and other accounts moving on Facebook and elsewhere were really only eyewitness observations of what had occured. There was no journalistic reportage from these eyewitnesses.

But I do think what was interesting was how rapidly professional journalists were able to access primary sources on this story thanks to social networking. You start to see the sense in the

The phenomenon highlights the power of social media and shows the wisdom of, for example, the recent decision by Sky News to order all their reporters to start using the Twitter application Tweetdeck on their work PCs. Clearly, as a news alert service Twitter is beating the wires hands down.