Sometimes, Twitter isn't the center of the universe

July 9, 2013, at 9:44 PM

I was on vacation, checked out, on the beach, dude, when I heard about the crash of Asiana Flight 214. My news-y instincts kicked in, as they always do, always pissing off my friends and family, and I started to Tweet. Oh, was I clever and quick. I've already aggregated so many critical information streams, scanner feeds, photo feeds, Twitter accounts, and websites that it was quite easy to become a hub of information in no time, even though I'm not a pilot, not a San Franciscan, have no human sources in the Bay Area, and have no access to the larger canvasses of television or radio.

Go me. After a few minutes of Tweeting, my stream started to fill itself with meta-Tweets, or Tweets about Tweeting. They were self-congratulatory Tweets from people who spend their days on Twitter. They were snarky encomiums directed towards the weekend assignment editors and back-up anchors on broadcasts who were clueless, maudlin, and rambly. Then, one person on the plane Tweeted a picture of the crashed jet, and suddenly, the meta-Tweets iterated. You are now participating in the real-time Twittering of a plane crash! (Hey, what's that about a Canadian plane crash, or dozens dead in Egypt? Nevermind. I can listen to the San Francisco Fire Department scanner online now.)

Days later, we know this: Of the 297 people aboard the plane crash, of the roughly 250 people who survived with minimal injuries, two of them had Twitter accounts. Two. That's... 2/250, or 1 in 125, or less than one percent. Maybe there were more, but the folks were dealing with a plane crash.

# We know that many of the initial Tweets, including some of my own, got as many facts wrong as the much lamented television anchors: The plane didn't land on runway 28R; it landed on runway 28L.

# There WAS a precision guidance system along the runway, and the pilots were using it.

# Dozens of people were never not accounted for.

# The local TV stations in San Francisco had better information that anyone else, and had it more quickly.

Since I write for people who Tweet and I Tweet, I tend to think that the entire universe revolves around the application, speaks its language, and assimilates its collective wisdom. Not true. Twitter contributed marginally to our understanding of the plane crash, if at all. Now, I'll still use it, and I'll still Tweet during emergencies, because that's one of the least torturous things that I've found I can do with my life. But all the same, I'll put what I'm doing in more perspective.






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