Saturday, November 29, 2008

Twitter Comes Into Its Own

Mr. Shanbhag, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, said he had not heard the term citizen journalism until Thursday, but now he knows that is exactly what he was doing. “I felt I had a responsibility to share my view with the outside world,” Mr. Shanbhag said in an e-mail message on Saturday morning.

The attacks in India served as another case study in how technology is transforming people into potential reporters, adding a new dimension to the news media.

At the peak of the violence, more than one message per second with the word “Mumbai” in it was being posted onto Twitter, a short-message service that has evolved from an oddity to a full-fledged news platform in just two years.

Those descriptions and others on Web sites and photo-sharing sites served as a chaotic but critically important link among people across the world — whether they be Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn tracking the fate of a rabbi held hostage at the Nariman House or students in Britain with loved ones back in India or people hanging on every twist and turn in the standoff while visiting relatives for Thanksgiving dinner.

“When you look at TV, you see one channel at a time, then you go to another channel,” said Dina Mehta, an ethnographer and social media consultant in Mumbai. “On Twitter, you get feeds from many different people at the same time.”...

...“I relied on Twitter heavily,” said Mordechai Lightstone, 24, a freelance journalist and Lubavitcher with a Twitter account. “As a person interested in what is going on over there, it gets frustrating when the news cycles on itself.”

Mr. Lightstone said that only a week or so ago he persuaded the leaders of his community to use Twitter as a publishing tool. He has been running that Twitter account, as well as his own.

Reading Mr. Lightstone’s posts, as well as those of another Lubavitcher, Reuven Fischer, gave a glimpse into a community fearing for one of its own but wanting to remain hopeful about its mission.

Mr. Lightstone wrote, “This is pure hearsay, but I was told that the shlucha was rescued — again this unsubstantiated #chabad #mumbai,” using the Yiddish word for the rabbi’s wife and marking keywords with pound signs so that the post would be easier to find in a search of Twitter.

As the news that the rabbi and his wife had been killed emerged, and the Sabbath approached, Mr. Lightstone and Mr. Fischer took pains to temper their sadness with the joy of the day of rest.

Mr. Fischer wrote, “We should Honor Shabbos with joy this week. We can mourn after Shabbos doing Mitzvot in honor of ALL effected by this tragedy.”

Though traditional in dress and beliefs, Lubavitchers pride themselves on harnessing all of the available tools to spread their teachings.


Anonymous said...

Can you explain this Twitter thing "for Dummies" -- I've heard of it & kind of got the *impression* it had to do with Blackberries & other cell phones w/internet capability -- but what is it, where is it? can people who don't *do* it (don't "twitter") still benefit from other people's twittering? how? is it like blogging, but in shorthand? Thanks.

YMedad said...

it's an expanded SMS (or text-messaging) phenomenon using cell phones but also with a site that displays all.

Suzanne Pomeranz said...

Go to: and you will get all the "tweets" that include the word "mumbai" or are connected in some way to the situation there.

Or just go to and type in a keyword (preceeded by the pound sign) and you'll get all the tweets on that subject.