What If We’d Had Social Media On 9/11?

September 13, 2011

Admit it — the thought crossed your mind at least once on Sunday.

What if we’d had today’s social media on 9/11?

This was a popular theme in the news the past week, and rightfully so. Since social media has so profoundly improved the efficiency of our communication and risen to near ubiquity, it’s impossible to avoid wondering how social media could’ve helped the country on 9/11. It was a pretty popular topic for commentators, too.

Here’s some of the more interesting perspectives I came across:

Could Twitter have stopped the 9/11 terrorists?
Wayne Grayson, The Tuscaloosa News

“Imagine if people on the planes had social media. More and more these days airlines are installing wireless Internet on airplanes,” said University of Alabama assistant psychology professor Rosanna Guadagno. “Those passengers in the hijacked planes could have tweeted about the hijacking.

“We probably could have prevented some of the damage that day.”

On 9/11, “Rebirth” & Birth of Social Media
Lee Brenner, Hypervocal.com

The 9/11 attack was one of the last major global events not seen through the prism of the Social Media Era. Imagine if we had Facebook or Twitter or GPS-enabled smartphones in 2001. If these tools had existed on that fateful day, we’d have had status updates from Towers, tweets from people running to/from the carnage, videos from every phone uploaded to YouTube, fundraising for funerals and firefighters on Kickstarter.

And, of course, not only facts and documentation, but falsehoods would’ve been spread in immediate fashion. What would Twitter have been like? Chances are, it would have been “fail whale’d,” but if it weren’t, how much inaccurate nonsense would have been on there?

9/11 In A Social Media World: How The Times Have Changed
Peter Stringer, Bostinnovation.com

Reports say that occupants of the South Tower were initially told by building security to stay put in their offices, and that the issue was contained. But if those victims posted status and photos to Facebook describing the North Tower scene, as word spread that a commercial airliner had struck the tower, and friends and family had commented on their posts, possibly telling them to leave the building, perhaps more people may have left the South Tower in time to survive the second impact. It’s all speculation, obviously, but indecision paralyzed many people on 9/11. Perhaps social influence from loved ones could have mobilized more people to ignore building security’s initial instructions and leave the South Tower earlier.

Washington Post publisher Weymouth sees social media as ‘them,’ not ‘us’
Jeff Sonderman, Poynter.org

Quoting Washington Post Publisher Katharine Weymouth:

“Most of us learned about the events of that day in one of four ways — by television, by radio, by newspaper, or by a phone call from a friend. And while we are all incredibly grateful for the ways in which technology has enhanced our lives, I think we are also grateful that we didn’t live through 9/11 with all of that technology.

“We didn’t have to see live video footage shot from inside the collapsing buildings and uploaded onto YouTube. Cellphones didn’t have cameras back then. … Can you imagine how horrifying it would have been if we had tweets from the victims on the planes or in the offices, or if they had posted to their Facebook pages?

“… Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and all the technologies that have yet to be invented make all these events more real, and more horrific. Television pales in comparison.”

Maybe it’s not important to wonder how 9/11 could have been different with social media. But the next time disaster occurs, whether natural or man-made, social media will be there. Here’s hoping we leverage its power to save lives.