September 11th Memorial | 9-11-09
Credit: Dov Harrington via Flickr

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was half-watching the Today show as I was getting ready for work when Katie Couric reported that there was a big fire at the World Trade Center, possibly caused by a plane crash. I watched live as the second plane hit the south tower. I took a cab to work and heard on the radio that there was a big explosion at the Pentagon. I got on the Web at work and bounced around news sites looking for updates. I didn’t use Internet chat in the office, so my only interaction with other people online was on a bulletin board. I’d refresh the screen every few minutes to see if a new comment had been posted. That’s how we got news back then and I didn’t feel cheated. On Sunday night, the events of that day came full circle with the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan. With every major news event, there is much said and written about the expanding role of social media in how we get our information. The bin Laden story is huge, but not all-consuming like the Al Qaeda attacks and aftermath nearly a decade ago. So I wonder how another Sept. 11 would play out on the Internet today. Not only could we get the news faster than the mainstream media could report it, we might even find out faster than the government. Would the passengers on those planes be on Twitter saying they had been hijacked? Would the office workers trapped on the doomed upper floors of the burning skyscrapers beg for help on Facebook? What would you do, watching the horror unfold, sitting there helplessly? The near-instantaneous sharing of social media can get a whole lot deeper than finding out that bin Laden was killed a few minutes before the president announced it on television.

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