Would Social Media have made a Difference on 9/11?

September 11, 2001

How would social media have impacted on 9/11?

In the lead up to the 10 year anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 in the USA, I’ve been reflecting how different that day and the following weeks and months, would have been if social media (Facebook and Twitter) had been in existence.

10 years ago there were mobiles, but no smartphones, and when the attacks occurred most people were unable to make calls as the lines were jammed or towers inaccessible. This meant that many didn’t know for hours or even days, whether their loved ones and colleagues were alive or what had happened to them. The missing lists were endless (almost 7,000) at the beginning and 2 years later the lists were still being revised (final toll was 2752).

Now imagine if the world in 2001 had Facebook and Twitter. That day and the years that followed would have played out significantly differently:

  • People could have posted messages to their friends and loved ones before they died. These would have created a cherished touchstone and memory direct from that person. We still hear chilling voicemail messages that were left by those who were on United Airlines flight 93, that was forced to crash in Pennsylvania. They were some of the few that were able to reach out and say ‘I love you’. But only one or two people could receive those messages – Facebook and Twitter would have allowed for far greater reach to communicate with all friends and family.
  • Those who survived, but couldn’t get home or in touch with family in the chaos that followed, could have posted messages saying they were safe and sound. This would have prevented days of worry for their loved ones and allowed them to tell their friends around the world, that they were ok.
  • Emergency services could have used Facebook and Twitter to communicate with the public about what to do, what was happening and how to help, just as the police did during the Brisbane Floods in 2011.
  • The outpouring of support and sympathy from around the world could have been shared through these platforms as a symbol of hope and connecting humanity together, as we have seen with the Japanese Earthquake and the Christchurch Earthquake.

Already this topic is trending on Twitter and many pages have been set up on Facebook to commemorate the 10 year anniversary. As in any situation, some would have misused these platforms and the freedom of public speech, but overwhelmingly, I think you’d agree – that social media would have made a difference on September 11, 2001.

Our thoughts go out to all of those who were affected that day. May the anniversary be a day you remember your loved ones for the gifts they were in your life.