News of a Charlotte-bound US Airways flight plunging into the Hudson River on Thursday led countless people to turn to the Web and cell phones or other hand-held devices for news.
It was the latest example of how the Internet has grown into a powerful tool to spread breaking news.
Within minutes of the crash, dispatches from eyewitnesses started appearing on popular online social networks such as Twitter, where users send text messages called “tweets.” They were soon joined by countless other users sending well wishes to those onboard the plane.
Among the messages:
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“We are watching the US Air flight that crashed into the Hudson river just outside our window. On the roof watching rescue.”
“Everyone survived the Hudson River plane crash (landing). That's called GOOD NEWS. A miracle really …”
Twitter also brought one of the first images. Janis Krums, a self-described entrepreneur from Sarasota, Fla., was aboard one of the passenger ferries sent to rescue those on the flight and snapped a picture as it approached the plane. “It was a matter of just luck,” Krums told MSNBC.
Michael Tippett, co-founder of the Vancouver-based site NowPublic.com, a citizen journalism Web site, said Twitter is just the latest online tool people are using to gather news. Other examples include Facebook, YouTube and the photo-sharing site Flickr.
While the sites often are used for more informal exchanges – such as telling observers that you really didn't enjoy that new movie – the social networking sites also have provided an avenue to break major news stories like the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. The sites are “increasingly being used as a way of letting people who are live on the scene with mobile devices in their hands get the beginnings of a news story out,” Tippett said.
Tippett and others said the ability to give people insight into breaking news is a major benefit of the sites. Still, there are limitations, chief among them the fact that information shared may be wrong, Michael Arrington, co-editor of TechCrunch.com, which profiles new Internet products, wrote in November.