• The altering effects of social media after Sept. 11

    by  • October 23, 2011 • Features • 0 Comments


    Sean Rooney was in his office on the 98th floor of the south tower when the second plane hit his building, as Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn recount in their book 102 Minutes. Rooney thought there was no way down, and was told by operators to stay put or go to the roof.

    What Rooney and the operators did not know was that there was one staircase intact and accessible from where he was, Staircase A. Some people who were above the 78th floor, the floor where the plane hit, were able to escape using Staircase A, but the survivors didn’t have the opportunity to share the information in time.

    A graphic of the stairwells in the south tower of the WTC. -graphic by Archie Tse/The New York Times

    “In the south tower, the obstacle was only partially physical; the biggest obstacle was a lack of information,” Jim Dwyer, New York Times reporter and author of 102 Minutes, said in an interview.

    This lack of information in 2001, along with many scenarios similar to this one, could have possibly been different with the social networking and mobile communication that came out in the years that followed. There is speculation that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media prevalent today could have been beneficial to the victims inside the buildings.

    “As the firefighters went up in the south tower, they were radioing back that Stairway A was open. There was no mechanism for that vital fact to loop back to the people above 78,” Dwyer said. “Twitter might have made a huge difference for anyone who could get to Stairway A.”

    Kevin Flynn also speculates a possible scenario where social media could have helped.

    “If they just had somebody at the bottom of the stairs interviewing people as they came down, and they said to them, what floor did you come from, then they would immediately know how far up the staircases were working,” Flynn said. “Then the person at the bottom of the stairs could radio in and they could post it somewhere online.”

    Listen to Flynn’s interview here

    Twitter and other related sites now make it possible for citizens to publish and share information instantly, which could have benefited civilians on 9/11. At the time of Sept. 11 where communication and time were crucial, the people inside the buildings didn’t have a choice but to call 9-1-1, operators, or family members and friends to find out what was going on. Social media would have allowed alternative means of information and communication.

    What Google looked like on 9/11/01. It directed people (in the banner under the search bar) to turn to their TV or radio instead of searching Google. photo from highervisibility.com

    Internet usage increases post-9/11

    According to internetworldstats.com, Internet usage in the U.S. rose from 142 million in 2001 to 245 million in 2011. It wouldn’t be until three years after Sept. 11 that Facebook would come out in 2004. Twitter would follow shortly after in 2006. Cell phones were in the midst of becoming more popular. The first Smartphone was the Blackberry 5812, that came out in 2002. It only included phone calls, e-mail and texting, unlike the Smartphones we know today. In 2002 camera phones became popular. Now virtually every cell phone has a camera in it, and according to inmannews.com, more than 82 million people in the U.S. use a Smartphone today.

    While it is difficult to consider just how much social media could have helped the devastating events on 9/11, it is easy to assume that it would have made some sort of impact given how extensive a role social media played in recent world events.

    The most popular words that were being used in social media on the 9/11 anniversary. The larger the font, the more it was talked about. -photo from blog.sysomos.com.

    People all over the world have used social networking sites during many events and disasters such as the uprisings in Egypt and in other Middle Eastern countries earlier this year, the riots in London, and more recently, Hurricane Irene.

    “Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, but probably more importantly the proliferation of mobile devices that tap into these networks, have made communications faster and more wide spread than ever before,” said social media expert Jason Falls, in an e-mail. “Word of mouth just happens faster now. This is good news for natural disasters or other emergency situations on scale because more people can be informed faster.”

    Reflecting on 9/11 with the new technology

    Twitter was also used in remembering 9/11 a decade later.

    According to a New York Times article, there were over 3.1 million posts on Twitter this past Sept. 11 about the anniversary. It was a forum for people to share their thoughts and remember 9/11.

    The new Facebook application for the 9/11 Memorial. -photo by Lauren Mennen

    To further demonstrate how much of an impact social media has become in our country, the article also points out that Facebook teamed up with the September 11 Memorial to promote a new application as a tribute to the victims.

    The effects of social media are endless in today’s society, and one could only imagine how much it would have been used on September 11, 2001.

    Sean Rooney is one scenario of many that could have ended differently with the presence of more information, and the communication technology to support it.


    Click here to see some of the top tweets from celebrities on the 10th 9/11 anniversary.

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