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Trending on Twitter: news, lies and rumours on Karachi terror attack

Eyewitnesses, journalists, officials and Taliban: they were all tweeting about the terrorist siege on Pakistan's Jinnah International airport. But who got their facts right?

world Updated: Jun 10, 2014 07:19 IST
Vishakha Saxena

It is perhaps the closest you could be to the action, with a flurry of absolutely gripping Tweets giving you minute-by-minute account of the drama unfolding at the Karachi airport on Sunday night. While the attack at Pakistan's Jinnah International airport raged on, the Twitter world was on a buzz of its own: from eyewitness and journalist accounts to fake images, the micro-blogging website lived up to its reputation of bringing you news faster than any television channels, and at times, spreading potentially damaging viral information. And how?

Witnessing via Twitter

Sample this tweet from @saim_rizvi at 12:53 am on Monday: "I think some local airline got hijacked by terrorists .. I can see army jawan are on run way now". Three minutes later, there was another post from the same handle: "F*** --- they fire rocket launchers -- may allah protect my country and all passengers and people who are on the board as well on the floor"

Though he never tweeted the details of his flight, Syed Saim A Rizvi was one of the passengers stuck at the airport when it was attacked. His 'almost live' tweets of the attack were the only source of information for the outside world till security officials instructed the passengers against sharing updates about their location and movements.

Most of Rizvi's posts were re-tweeted over 300 times, and soon also whipped up a frenzy of well-wishes from his panic-stricken followers. "Feeling a little throw-uppy. Passenger @saim_riz's last tweet was 40 minutes ago. He is in the Emirates plane at the airport," tweeted @SheikhImaan to her over 9,500 followers when Rizvi stopped posting updates for close to an hour in the midst of the action.

On-the-spot reporting

Rizvi wasn't the only user live-tweeting from the airport. Another user, @akchishti, kept the Twitter world glued to his handle during the attack: not content with posting eye-witness account, he was continuously 'reporting' the developments through the night, even quoting officials at times. One of Ali Kamram Chishti's tweets - "8 confirmed terrorists in #Karachi Airport now. They are moving with commando precision. They are on CCTV now" - was re-tweeted over 300 times. Another post from him - "suicide bomber just blew himself up #KarachiAirport #Karachi" - was re-tweeted over 350 times.

Not surprisingly, Chishti, who touched the 22,000 followers mark during the attack, was quoted by journalists from various countries, and many fellow Tweeters applauding his courage and presence of mind.

Chishti's tweets weren't short of opinion as well. "Those who are confused about terrorism policy & delaying operation in Waziristan are responsible for #KarachiAirportAttack. Pakistan must act" he tweeted some time during the night, earning a flurry of mixed reaction from his followers. Even Chishti's mother, a PIA official, was stuck at the airport till 3:19am. His Tweet about her safe return was welcomed by a flurry of well wishes from his followers.

Responsible live reporting

Though Chishti's tweets were widely cited as 'responsible' and examples of 'good reporting', Pakistan media came under heavy attack from the Twitter world. In a sad reminder of how aggressive live television hampered rescue operation during 26/11 Mumbai attacks, Pakistan's TV media too was criticised for giving away vital troop positions and other important information related to rescue operations.

Noman Ansari (@Pugnate), a freelance writer, tweeted this: "LIGHTS BAND KERO! (Switch off lights!) Shouted cop at Express reporter after they were shot at because of camera man. Idiotic media. #karachiairport #Karachi" And, Ansari was not the only one. Sample these:

In all the confusion, making a case for responsible reporting and information dissemination was @AirportPakistan, the Twitter handle for four major Pakistani airports. Its precise and accurate tweets played a huge role in disspelling rumours flying across Twitter. Appreciation for the handle poured in despite its tweet clarifying it wasn't the official account. "#QR604 DOH-KHI has DIVERTED and RETURNED back to #Doha. NOT landing at #Jinnah." it tweeted around 1:07am. When asked by various users whether a plane was destroyed or hijacked or on fire, the handle replied with a clear "negative".

Twitterati's turn to help

While the jury is still out there, the Twitterati's conscious effort to help disseminate trustworthy information and to help find answers, has been most impressive. Most users aggressively retweeted information, directing users looking for information to specific handles in an attempt to make some sense of the mayhem. But that wasn't all.

Many accounts, considered Taliban-TPP accounts, were live-tweeting the attack, reportedly in Pashtun. Users started taking screen-grabs to ask anyone for help in translating what they were saying.

Many others flagged the 'fake' images doing rounds with appeals to avoid adding fuel to the mayhem. With live-tweets from reporters to terrorists, Twitter had a busy Sunday night. A night that could go a long way in proving its worth as a dependable medium, or otherwise. And it is possibly the strongest evidence of the power of social media, especially, Twitter.