Twitter and the Bangalore Blasts: Part III – Does Twitter ‘hype’ the news?

A series of bomb blasts was detonated in Bangalore last Friday, killing two people and injuring several others. Mukund Mohan, a technology entrepreneur, who was working nearby, decided he would provide updates on what was happening using Twitter, a micro-blogging tool that enables people to publish short, 140-character, updates online. Prompted by some interesting comments, this is the third post in a series looking at how reporting on Twitter compares with more traditional methods of journalism. The first post is here, the second is here, and the final post is here.
One twitterer who was in Bangalore felt that Twitter was ‘hyping’ the news:

“Mukund [Mohan] is an ambulance chaser, it is a very small event, twitter hypes hysteria should be your blogpost, live from bangalore. [It] hypes hysteria and spreads rumors, almost as well as the cellphone network …”

This twitterer, though, had singled out the wrong person. Mohan’s updates were moderate in tone, factual, and generally avoided speculation. He was also trying to provide a way for friends and relatives to find out if loved ones were safe. As he said in a comment on my blog:

“The fact still is that twitter was the easiest way to keep people (many of my friends are in the Silicon Valley and they have close family in Bangalore) updated.
Having been in that situation before I know how nerve wracking it is to get any information from any source on whether people you know back home are safe.
It served that purpose. I am happy about that.”

However, some of the tweets which talked about the blast didn’t provide any new information and were rather unhelpful:

“Bangalore blasts count goes up to 9. What in the gods name is going on!”

(The second sentence of this tweet rather undermined any confidence I had in the first!) This and similar tweets might have a tendency to cause unnecessary panic.
But another twitterer, scorpfromhell, pointed out that whatever was said on Twitter, it was never going to cause anxiety on the ground in Bangalore. He said that using the social media tool remains a very niche activity in India:

‘It has solely been used as a means of communicating among the twiterrati of Bangalore and has not at all contributed to any hysteria’.

The problem of hype and hysteria in the representation of news events maybe a consideration when more people use and have access to Twitter or similar modes of communication. I felt that in this instance it was possible to get an accurate picture of the scale of what was happening, but that’s not to say it might not be an issue in the future.
This was not a major world news story by journalism’s old news values. But this is a new era for journalism and this was important news for those who were involved. In a time when there is limitless space on the World Wide Web, why shouldn’t such events be reported to a wider global audience?
Tomorrow – final post in the series: Twitter vs the mainstream media.