Social Media Then and Now: 9/11 edition

On the anniversary of September 11, 2001, I sit here looking at countless tweets, Instagrams, and Facebook posts about the tragedies that occurred that day and I wonder what that day would have been like if social media existed like it does today. According to CTIA Wireless Associationthere were around 120 million mobile phone subscribers in 2001. Today, there are around 300 million cell phone subscribers with over 2/3 of those being smart phones. Not only have cell phones evolved, so has social media. Social media didn’t begin being regularly used until around 2002 or so. Platforms like Myspace and LinkedIn could only be accessed on computers, before the invention of smart phones.myspace

The launch of Facebook in 2004 is when social media really started to change. Twitter’s launch in 2006 was also very important and changed social media completely. It created a much more “live” sense of social media.

In 2015, social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat exist primarily on smartphones. Social media has moved from the desktop computer to our smartphones. Social media is no longer for sharing only personal information and photos, but it is used as a news source. During any given event, thousands of pictures and live-tweets/posts are being posted. For example, sporting events and award shows are live-tweeted. There were 24.1 million Superbowl related tweets in 2013.

With the increase use of smartphones and social media, almost everything is documented this day in age. Whether it be sporting events, award shows, concerts, charity events, or even tragedies. Riots, protests, natural disasters, crises, and the like are documented all over social media now. The photo below is an example of how social media has changed, this was not possible during the September 11th attacks.

Source: latinopost.com
Source: latinopost.com

It is almost impossible to not know what is going on in the world if you are present on social media because our feeds are constantly flooded with real-time information.

If smart phones existed on September 11, 2001, I think the day would have gone much differently. Cell phones were almost useless that day with almost no one able to get a signal to communicate. People were missing for hours, sometimes days. Imagine how social media could have relieved friends and family members of those “missing.” A simple Facebook or tweet to confirm they were alive would have taken a huge burden off of people everywhere. Not to mention how much easier it would be to find shelters, see statements from the government, disaster efforts, and so on. Fundraising in itself is a huge part of social media, and we’ve seen that with natural disasters over the past few years. That could have been a game changer.

If social media and smart phones were like they are now that day, imagine the thousands of real time videos, pictures, and posts there would have been to document the horrors. Sometimes I wonder if it better that social media wasn’t as prevalent that day. An article for the Huffington post made a good point about how the benefits of social media that day may have profound. No one can deny that we could have been exposed to even more disturbing imagery, but what would have come from the use of social media could have given more evidence for engineers investigating the collapse.

Social media could have changed 9/11 tremendously, with some positive and negative aspects. Social media would have meant the tragedy would be more widely documented, but I don’t think we need more photos and videos than we already have to make sure we remember that terrible day in American History.



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