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How Would Social Media Have Altered September 11?

Lindsay Fetzner

An example of what we might have seen 10 years ago, had Twitter and other social media tools been as widely used. NOTE: This is not an actual tweet."

This past Sunday, September 11 was a grim reminder of the horrific event that took our country by surprise exactly 10 years ago. Watching the news coverage throughout the day made me realize how far we as a country have come since that dreadful day, and how much the world around us has changed.

As I turned on the radio driving to work on Monday morning, I paused on a riveting conversation two hosts on a local station were having.

The topic touched on the advances that have been made in technology over the past 10 years, and more specifically, what impact this technology would have had if a tragedy of this magnitude were to happen today.

Ten years ago, most people didn’t have a smart phone, a Facebook account, a Twitter account; the list goes on and on. This holds true even for people who lived and worked in New York City.  Due to this fact, the phone lines were the most frequently used mode of communication.

However, in today’s world of modern technology, it is far from the norm not to be “plugged in” to one of these social media applications.

I’m sure you can recall the riots that made headlines in London earlier this summer, and the incredible social media response.

And just three weeks ago, an earthquake rocked Virginia, and the weekend following, Hurricane Irene swept through the East Coast. And through it all, those affected were able to connect with friends, family and loved ones through social media when other forms of communication (i.e. the phone lines) failed.

Facebook and Twitter pages filled with accounts and photos of the events, people connecting to say they were safe, as well as an outpour of support for those who needed it most.

With the 10th anniversary of September 11 this past weekend, the radio hosts’ conversation made me reflect on how just how much we rely on technology, and more specifically, how that horrific day would have been different had it occurred today.

Take Facebook for example. According to its website, more than 750 million people use the application, spending over 700 billion minutes per month on the site. In just 10 short years,  our reliance on social media has grown exponentially.

We all will forever remember where we were when we heard the news of 9/11. Whether those involved in the tragedy could communicate with others around them, however, was a different story. One of the first forms of communication to disappear for those in and around New York City on September 11 (and the days following) was the phone lines. Without it, people had no idea where their colleagues, friends and family members were.

Posting a Facebook status saying you were safe, tweeting your location or sending a text message informing someone to evacuate the building would not have been possible in 2001. However, today, that likely would not have been the case. Simply put, social media has transformed from simply a mode of communication to a potential life saving tool.

So I ask: Ten years later, how do you think September 11 would have been different had social media been as much a part of our world as it is now? CJP

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