- 1 Dec 08, 16:03 GMT
It has quickly become the received wisdom amongst new and old media commentators - Twitter came of age last week during the Mumbai terror attacks. It is true that the micro-blogging service did provide vast amounts of information, at breakneck speed, about a confusing and rapidly changing series of events. Here are the first messages I found on Twitter, starting at 16.47 London time, some time before the mainstream media started reporting the attacks. But I think a couple of myths have grown up about the role of Twitter in telling the story.
Myth 1 - The government ban
One of the stories that kept popping up on Twitter was that the Indian government was in some way trying to silence the network because of concerns that it was proving an aid to the terrorists. Here's what an Australian website said:
"An unconfirmed report out of India has the Indian Government urging Twitter users to not share specific on the scene information, and further that the Government may be trying to block Twitter in India, or is asking Twitter to block Mumbai related tweets."
The story appeared on the BBC's own Mumbai live event page which pulled togther all kinds of sources, official and unofficial, to give readers a picture of the developing story:
1108 Indian government asks for live Twitter updates from Mumbai to cease immediately. "ALL LIVE UPDATES - PLEASE STOP TWEETING about #Mumbai police and military operations," a tweet says.
But were these "unconfirmed reports" actually true? I can't find any official sources for the story. The line on the BBC website was apparently sourced from this blog which in turn was quoting Twitter posts. The BBC editor I contacted stressed that the live event page was designed to allow readers to keep up with all the latest information circulating about the story, giving readers a sense of how people are reacting and what they are saying, in real time. Items are sourced, he added, and to some extent it's up to the reader to decide how much credence to give them.
(But) if this story does turn out to be a myth it will be a handy reminder to treat everything you hear on a social network with a degree of scepticism. Which brings us to our second myth.
Myth 2 - Mainstream media now irrelevant
The other idea that is spreading quickly is that the huge volume of user generated content coming out of Mumbai on Twitter and other networks highlights the increasing irrelevance of the mainstream media. A site called GroundReport claims that it had a full report on the Mumbai attacks before the established media got out of bed. GroundReport publishes text and pictures from people on the ground and apparently recruited a number of Mumbai Twitterers to cover the story. But it is worth noting that the original story on the GroundReport website has attracted fewer than 200 viewers so far, whereas untold millions have watched television reports in India and around the world.
Now it is not a myth that each time a major disaster occurs there is more material available from witnesses - or citizen journalists - and smart mainstream media outlets are having to learn how to access that content. And last Wednesday evening it was Twitter that first alerted me to the fact that something was happening in Mumbai. But as I searched through the Tweets, the picture got more and more confusing. Who were these people - Mumbai residents or people watching cable television in the United States? Could I trust what they were telling me about this breaking story? Many of the tweets were simply quoting reports on Indian television or the BBC. So from then on I turned on the television and the radio and scanned the newspapers to build up a more complete and reliable picture.
What Twitter has done is to provide instant information about anything that is happening near its millions of users, coupled with a brilliant way of sharing that information. What it doesn't do is tell us what is true and what isn't - and that makes the work of mainstream media outlets and professional reporters all the more relevant.
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites