Social Media Saved Lives, Brought People Closer During Paris Attacks

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-11-16 Print this article Print
Paris Terror

I remember the pleasure at finding that some of those messages were destined to my area, and of hearing the sounds of joy when I made the phone call to deliver the words of assurance.

Over the years, cell phones have picked up this task and phone companies have done what they could to make it easier. During the terror attacks in France, for example, Verizon eliminated charges for phone calls between the United States and France so that people could communicate with their friends and families.

This need to get assurance of the safety of family and friends has its negative consequences as well. It's a major reason why phone circuits are perpetually clogged during disasters of all types-or even just a spell of bad weather.

I've written many times in these pages about why it's important not to depend on the cell phone network for voice calls during even minor emergencies. It's not uncommon for even something on the scale of a major snowfall to tie up cell networks for a while.

But I've also written that Short Message Service (SMS) texts can frequently find a way through the network because of the small bandwidth they require. Even networks that are otherwise inaccessible for voice traffic will often forward a text message.

But how many people know that you can send a text message to Twitter and have it show up? You can just send the message to the phone number 40404, and if you've previously set up your phone in Twitter—then your Tweet will go out just as if you'd used a Twitter app. This is a way to get your message out to the world even in times when nothing else works.

Unfortunately, disaster also can also bring out the worst in people—including on social media. During the Paris attacks there were hoaxes, misinformation and innocent transmission of reports that were simply incorrect. Despite some social media details, the city of Paris was not burning.

Social media also yields important, if unexpected, information in times of disasters. Despite the assertions by the intelligence community that the terrorists had somehow found secret ways to communicate, their public social messages are now appearing when someone searches for them, including messages in advance of the attacks that weren't hidden or even encrypted. They were simply missed.

Fortunately, during the attacks, the right people were monitoring social media and because of that they got the information they needed to take action. This may have been the first time during a terrorist attack that social media played such a role, but now that first responders at all levels know about it, it shouldn't be the last.



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