Social Media – Do Something!

Daily Camera Cartoon 20140519While reading the local newspaper (page 9A in Boulder Daily Camera on May 19, 2014), I noticed this cartoon, showing a poor lady victimized while people tweet their sentiments about this tragedy. The implication is that social media (Twitter in this case) is a distraction (or even an excuse) for not taking meaningful action when obviously necessary. Is this true globally? Will this be the legacy of social media into the future?


Let’s unpack the issues behind this cartoon.

  1. Tweeting in this situation is low risk, low energy, low latency action as compared to confronting the actual crime. Anyone can quickly perform this tweeting action, relieving their own tensions about the situation. Now, I have done something…
  2. Today twitter data streams are primarily used for social interactions, such as sharing feelings and finding common interests. Does this help our poor lady? Definitely NOT, hence as the irony of this cartoon!
  3. Twitter is starting to be used by corporations and governments to monitor general trends in product sales, customer complaints and political opinions. Hence, there is a potential for law enforcement to recognize specific areas as high crime and deploy resources to alleviate future crimes. Does this help our poor lady? No! But, maybe, just maybe, extra police presence in coming days may stop similar crimes.
  4. Twitter has been used in dozens of disaster situations, such as the fires and floods in Boulder last year, to provide fire fighters and citizens in general up-to-the-second feedback on the disaster. Hence, there is the potential to evolve into a national disaster alert and information system based on Twitter or other social media. Does this help our poor lady? Probably not.
  5. What if… There was a #911 hashtag that was legally reserved and managed for situations like this one? In other words, using the #911 hashtag in Twitter would be the same as calling 911 on the phone, with all its implications and legal restrictions, thus supplementing 911 phone calls?  Does this help our poor lady? Possibly.
  6. What if in addition… Tweets were automatically geo-located? Tweets were accompanied with photographs?  Does this help our poor lady? Yes!
  7. What if… A 911 app lead the user through a sequence of actions that effectively responds to various types of emergency situations. This would include sending an initial something-bad-happening tweet that is instantly machine-readable to flash proper warning indicators. Leads the user to snap a photograph, which is immediately sent. And then, calls the proper 911 operator to deal with this specific situation. And so on…  Does this help our poor lady? Double YES!!!

Notice how this cartoon paints a pathetic view of social media, which probably captures the situation today. However, social media has so much more potential, given the proper technology innovation, political leadership, and cultural changes. I wonder if the same cartoon will have its same punch five years from now.

Please comment… This is a realistic progression of the usage of Twitter and social media in general? Will we, as a society, be able to mature social media in this way? What are the barriers? What are the darker alternatives?

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