The Speed of Social Networks

Old News - canon rebel t2i

Old News – canon rebel t2i (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

Once upon a time news travelled at the speed of the fastest runner, as the story of the battle of Marathon demonstrated, with the information being eventually wheezed out to a gathered crowd.  Later news from abroad depended on the speed of a ship and the reliability of the wind.  Eventually many people received news by newspapers or weekly newsreels.  Even with the advent of Wire Services one thing still delayed the news – the need to get reporters and photographers to where the witnesses are.

Now though this has all changed.  News services monitor Twitter and anyone with a modern smartphone and decent data connection can be an on-the-spot reporter.  The recent Russian meteorite was not only one of the most well recorded in history, with the wealth of dashcam footage available rapidly on YouTube and the like but it was also very quickly reported on via the internet.  The BBC’s Horizon programme described the possible chain of events surrounding the future collapse of La Cumbre Vieja on La Palma, an event that could cause an Atlantic-wide mega-tsunami.  One aspect was the way the news of the event would be transmitted – within moments of the collapse beginning there would inevitably be a torrent of Tweets and photos on Twitter and Facebook.

The near instantaneous sharing of news worldwide is an unexpected side effect of services that are regarded generally as just a way to let your friends know, instantaneously, what you had for breakfast.  In the future governments as well as the news agencies will be watching out for keywords in public tweets and Facebook posts to gain early notifications that something serious is happening, from natural disasters to man-made tragedies.  This early warning can enable emergency plans to be activated sooner, and more lives be saved.

News has changed forever, from the speed of sail to the speed of light.

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