Doug Bedell — January 31, 2008, 10:19 am

When Social Networks Spread the ‘News’

A factor of growing – and bedeviling – importance in emergency communication is discussed, but by no means resolved, in W. David Stephenson’s blog on homeland security – the use of social networks in distributing emergency information.

Stephenson notes that mobile social network applications are spreading rapidly in Europe and no doubt will in the U.S. as well. That makes cell phones a prime potential medium for the “real-time” distribution of emergency information. And young people are the largest likely distribution group.

We say “distribution group,” but are folks armed with cell phones that generate terse text messages more likely to be “rumor spreaders?” Imagine, “Nuke plant’s releasing radiation, run” with no further context or elaboration.

Stephenson cites his “Law #3: In a crisis, turn communications over to the 15-25 year olds – they know how to route around obstacles (including adults!), and are most familiar with exploiting the full capabilities of emerging communication technologies.”

We hope this is at least partly tongue in cheek. What’s likely to be needed in the face of Twitter, MySpace and the rest are more robust media centers with assured lines of communication in and out, so that official accounts (and, presumably, accurate ones) of what’s happening have a competitive chance of being heard and viewed as the continuing source of authoritative information.

In a world in which everyone is potentially a broadcaster, it’s going to be interesting.

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