The Sciences

Caught in a National Disaster? Twitter May Save Your Life.

Reality BaseBy Melissa LafskySep 3, 2008 8:07 PM

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Like many, we were Twitter skeptics at first. "Who on earth would ever use this?" we thought a year or so ago, when the micro-blogging service was winding its way through the word-of-mouth (and -blog) channels. But now, given the site's major role in the presidential campaign, its history of freeing jailed Americans abroad, and even its ability to facilitate public safety during a national disaster, we're convinced: Twitter is freakin' brilliant, and may change the way we communicate on a global scale. ABC News writer Ki Mae Heussner reports that New Orleans natives and other hardy souls who faced off with Gustav were Twittering up a, er, storm, sending messages about evacuations and shelters, letting friends and family members know their location, and reporting on storm conditions as they watched them. The Red Cross also made good use of the service, sending Tweets about evacuation and available shelters to around 1,200 followers. As we've discussed before, when it comes to mainstream media, Twitter can mean more instant, real-time reporting with less editorial (or personal) lean. But for everyone else, the beauty of it is simpler, and more useful: You can report on what you're seeing right now to the entire Internet, and read others' reports, all with just a cell phone. Picture what that could mean in a wide-scale national disaster, terrorist attack, emergency, etc. What happened during Gustav is just the proverbial iceberg tip. So call us Twitter converts—and for God's sake, somebody get these guys some money.

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