September 11, 2001.  That was a day many of us experienced a single emotion for the first time — horror.  Not the movie kind. True, real-life, gut-wrenching, nauseating horror.  I will never forget it.

And as I watched the tenth anniversary news coverage, I had this weird thought.

I’m so glad we didn’t have Twitter back then.

“Nine eleven” was a day of complete chaos.  Planes were falling out of the sky. We didn’t know what was happening or why. And maybe most profound, we didn’t know what was going to happen next.  Agents of terror had seemingly used the nation’s infrastructure at will to kill thousands of innocent people on our own soil.

What would be the next target? The water supply? A nuclear power plant? The air that we breathe? You’ll recall that within the week there was an anthrax letter attack on the nation’s capital too. Did we need to lock ourselves up in our homes? Prepare for a nuclear or biological attack?

Can you imagine having Twitter on top of that confustion? What would Twitter be like in the midst of terror and chaos? Although there might be ways that Twitter connections can help in an emergency and maybe even save lives, certainly, when applied to the scale of the 2001 attack, it would also magnify the terror.

When every confused eye witness with a cell phone becomes a reporter and the most ridiculous innuendo can become a viral “fact” today, I shudder to think how much more emotional and psychological damage could have been done had we been following a Twitter stream that day.  How would terrorists use social media to spread misinformation to make the situation even more dangerous?  It would have been another layer of chaos on top of chaos, horror on top of horror.

Instead, we had to rely on “traditional” media.  And for all its faults, there was probably some psychological and emotional advantage in waiting for official statements from emergency services and the government.

Think back to that terrible moment.  Would social media accounts of that day have made the situation any better? Or like me, do you think it would have just added to your fear and confusion? Any lessons or thoughts on this?

Photo:  AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett


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