Ok, so I’ve already wandered off-topic slightly, in that this isn’t strictly about development. But it is very much about a developing story, in the breaking news sense, and therefore I’m going to say it’s in scope.
Earlier this evening, about 3 hours ago, I saw a post on Twitter, from @twitter_es, saying “Presidente de Ecuador declara estado de emergencia en Twitter”. A quick search of Twitter and BBC News provided some verification – it did indeed seem as though something very much like a military coup was taking place in Quito, the capital of Ecuador.
A few more searches revealed this tweet, about 4 hours ago, from what as far as I can tell is the official Twitter account of the office of the President of Ecuador, @Presidencia_Ec. It was starting to look like this really was a major news story breaking via Twitter.
“Registramos problemas con nuestros sitios web, seguiremos reportando desde nuestras cuentas en twitter @Presidencia_Ec @Elciudadano_Ec” – ‘…problems with our websites, we will continue reporting on Twitter..’
A link in a slightly earlier tweet takes you to a statement on the official website of the President of Ecuador, which say it was posted at 12:48 (local) on 30 July. The website hasn’t been updated since, but an hour later came this message, again on Twitter:
Now I don’t know for definite that this is the first time a government has announced a state of emergency via Twitter, but I do know that I haven’t heard of it happening before – and I’ve been both working for government and using Twitter over the last couple of years. So hopefully I would have heard if something similar had happened before – as it is, I think this may be a significant ‘first’.
If so, it is interesting for a number of reasons; professionally, for the reporting and sharing of information in times of crisis – it serves to demonstrate the value of Twitter as a means of disseminating information quickly; the use of Twitter by government as a public information service. I’ve worked on government responses to a number of humanitarian emergencies over the last couple of years, and we’re continually interested in the use of Twitter and other social media sites in this sense. And of course there’s the photographic angle – the immediacy of pictures appearing on the internet, and the inherent difficulty in verifying their ownership and accuracy.
Around the time the ‘state of emergency’ tweet, others tweets started appearing containing links to photos such as the one above. Dramatic images showing the President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, being struck by tear gas and rushed to hospital. I’ve tried to establish whether these pictures appeared first via Twitter, or via more established photo agencies, such as Agence France Presse (AFP).
The earliest image I can find posted via Twitter and Twitpic is here http://twitter.com/#!/teleSURtv/status/25996975514 – but it isn’t clear if this is the first place it appeared, as this doesn’t have an exact time stamp on it. AFP have the same image on their website, allegedly posted at about the same time.
[There is an interesting case ongoing in relation to AFP allegedly taking images of the earthquake in Haiti from Twitpic without the permission of the original photographer and I’m immediately wondering if there are any parallels with today’s events in Ecuador. But I think I’ll blog about this separately at another time.]
For now, it’s not clear exactly what is going on in Ecuador. I hope for the people of that country that the situation stabilises without any further violence or injury. And I’ll leave you with some more one of those dramatic images, developing pictures of a developing story, in every sense of the word.