Twitter and the 2008 Mumbai blast

Twitter turned six years old on March 21. On March 21, 2006, Twitter creator  Jack Dorsey published his first tweet: “just setting up my twttr”. But at first it appealed only to techies. It became a major source of news only two years later, when Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008, says Mary Cross in her book on social media.

Kate Bussman writes in her book, A Twitter Year:

The brainchild of American software expert Jack Dorsey, Twitter was originally conceived simply as a way to share short messages with friends.” Dorsey told the Los Angeles Times: “We looked in the dictionary… and came across the word, ‘twitter’, and it was just perfect. The definition was ‘a short burst of inconsequential information’ and ‘chirps from birds’. And that’s exactly what the product was.”

Mary Cross writes in her book Twitterati, Bloggerati: How Blogs and Twitter Are Transforming Popular Culture:

At first, Twitter appealed mainly to techies. Nobody else really noticed it much until November 2008 when a terrorist takeover of fancy hotels in Mumbai flooded the site with tweets about what was happening, way ahead of any news bureau reports. . Ten Pakistani terrorists were storming the city, taking hostages in two hotels, the Taj Mahal and Oberoi Trident, and fanning out to other locations using bombs, grenades, and guns. In all, 175 people, including nine of the attackers, were killed, and 308 were injured.23 The television feed to the hotels was shut down because the terrorists were using it. Victims trapped in the hotels commandeered by the terrorists tweeted for help on their cell phones and relayed minute-by-minute reports. “At the peak of the violence,” the New York Times reported, “more than one message per second with the word ‘Mumbai’ in it was being posted onto Twitter.” As Twitter became the communication mode of choice, the Indian government tried to block it. By the time news organizations got there, the crisis had passed, and the nonjournalists on Twitter had done their job of informing the world of what was happening. This was just the beginning of Twitter’s role as an advance alert system.

Since then, it has been the crucial communication tool for Japanese caught in an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, protesters in Egypt and Libya in 2011, in the June 2009 Iranian election protests, the 2010 celebrations of the Islamic Republic in Iran, and more. Twitterati were also the first responders in the miracle on the Hudson plane landing and the Haitian earthquake. In the Iranian election crisis, the U.S. State Department asked Twitter to put off its scheduled shutdown for maintenance to keep it going for protesters, and Twitter complied. Governments are threatened by Twitter, which proves its populist appeal, and so try to shut it down. The Egyptian government under Mubarak successfully shut down Twitter and other social media in January 2011 (but not soon enough to keep protesters from organizing).

Commando rappelling from a helicopter after Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008.
Commando rappelling from a helicopter after Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008.

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