(©wetzkaz / Fotolia.com)
Social media is establishing itself as a communication and alarm system for exceptional circumstances. In the shocking hours of the Munich shooting social media turned out to play a major role. On the one hand the Munich police force was praised for its exceptional effort providing citizens with information through their social media platforms. On the other hand, it triggered a new discussion about citizen journalism taking roots on social channels. Social media under exceptional circumstances – curse or blessing?
Trusted real-time information thanks to social media
31 social media posts had been published by Munich police force. It provided citizens promptly with trusted information in order to warn them as well as to reply to speculations causing troubles. For their exceptional social media presence they were praised internationally. Additionally, this case showed how social media became a crucial information tool under exceptional circumstances.
With social media postings, the Munich police force was able to reach a massive number of people as well as media. The police's immediate posting made it easy for journalists to find trustworthy information. Undoubtedly, the police of Munich showed they had the situation under control. In fact, this kind of communication has to dominate in exceptional situations in order to serve as a secure information and orientation source for citizens.
Citizen journalism as a controversial custom
Besides the accurate information coming from the police and the media there had also been speculations about the shooting, disinformation as well as unofficial photographical material about the incident on social media. Reporting in the field does not only come from sensationalism but also from a self-perception as a scout. However, citizens may make incorrect assumptions about happenings like a shooting. As a result, published material might fall into the wrong hands impeding the work of the police. Citizen journalism may be a thin line.
During the attack in Paris last year people had already been asked not to publish any pictures or videos in order to avoid even more panic and to make sure perpetrators wouldn't get information about the tactic of the police. Also the police of Munich made clear: “Don’t put any videos/pictures online (don’t support the perpetrators!)” (source: Facebook).
However, the new citizen journalism established on social media doesn’t need to be exploited in any case. For instance, there had been a broad alliance of solidarity on social networks, information about people being safe or the hashtag #OpenDoor helped the people in danger and their relatives. This shows that social media may also be a blessing under exceptional circumstances.
Social media and terrorism
Social media channels are repeatedly part of a controversial discussion when it comes to terrorism. Due to the intensive use of social media during attacks or shootings terrorism receives even more attention than ever before. Consequently, the goal of terrorism to inspire fear and fuel hatred is achieved efficiently. Thinking about the fact that even terrorists themselves may use social media to recruit people or to report about their awful actions the question pops up if social media may foster terrorism.
On the other hand, social media may also be useful to fight against terrorism and violence. With the help of a strict monitoring and meticulous data processing terroristic intentions may be discovered and thwarted at an early stage. It is therefore important that provider of networking sites do not allow any forbidden contents and draw consequences when rules are violated.
Clumsy use of social media
In summary many occasions have showed that the correct handling of social media communication has not been learned yet. Social media strongly changes journalists’ working methods in emergency situations. Especially traditional media should not be distracted from the higher pace on social media and keep quality standards high. Thus, especially during crisis situations news coverage needs to contain proven contents and it has to come from trustworthy sources. Only this way traditional media as well as social media may provide a complementary range of information and give the best performance as a communication system.