Social Media Saved Lives, Brought People Closer During Paris Attacks

NEWS ANALYSIS: When Paris was attacked by Islamic State Terrorists, social media saved lives and offered refuge to those in danger. But it also proved to be a mixed blessing in several ways.

Paris Terror 2

Shortly after the attack on the Bataclan theater in Paris began on Nov. 14, Benjamin Cazenoves found himself in the floor of the concert hall, wounded. He sent a Facebook message that he was hurt bad, and that the terrorists were still killing people.

His friends saw the message and immediately began sending Tweets to let law enforcement and anyone else who would listen know what was happening. Then he described the carnage, the dead people, and that the terrorists were killing people one by one, he posted on Facebook.

Shortly after that, police stormed the concert hall to rescue the people trapped inside. According to a report by CBS News the reports from Cazenoves and others who were trapped were instrumental in convincing the police to attempt the risky rescue instead of trying to negotiate for their surrender.

There is no question that the fact that people were able to communicate during the attack enabled law enforcement to get a better picture of what was going on than they would have had otherwise, and in this case, there are people alive today who would not have been, had the rescue been delayed.

There were other cases. Parisians were offering refuge in their apartments near the site of the attack so that people would have some place to go. Users of social media, including some news media such as the French Newspaper Le Monde, provided video of the attack in progress, and more video showing avenues of escape.

After the attacks were over, Facebook enabled its Safety Check feature which enabled people to confirm that their friends were safe. I used this feature to check on the status of two friends whom I knew to be in Paris during the attacks.

One of them told me that he'd been in the soccer stadium during the attack and had been evacuated later by French police. The other, a former eWEEK editor, had been on a plane that left Paris for home shortly before the attack.

This idea of a safety check has been belittled by many. But the fact is that the transmission of health and welfare messages is a significant factor in both the problems of communications during any kind of natural disaster and a significant drain on the resources of volunteers who might otherwise be assisting others in real danger during an attack.

I know that during my years as a ham radio operator, I've spent long nights by my radios, copying the messages as they arrived from some other part of the globe in Morse code, then transcribing them and sending those messages on their way, eventually to find family or friends to let them know where their loved one was and how they were doing.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...