The proliferation of New Media  has changed how effective Crisis Communication is to be done. Unfortunately, many companies and PR professionals have not fully understood the impact of these changes and are essentially using out-dated strategies and techniques. The presence of low cost internet access and internet ready devices have broken the monopolistic hold of professionally run news organisations. In today's information environment, practically anybody can create and disseminate “news” contents. These unregulated “Citizen Journalists” can now galvanise populace support as widely and as effectively as any big budget news organisations. Furthermore, the internet's ability to provide instantenous news on a 24/7 basis, consolidated and indexed (via intelligent search engines), has made it the primary source of news . Essentially, the convergence of media technology has fundamentally altered the way individuals receive news and gather information and has created two new dimensions to Crisis Communication – User Generated Contents and Rallying Tools.
a. User Generated Contents. The internet has put in the hands of every individual the power to express themselves globally. Any individual with a digital device and internet connection can create, publish and distribute media contents. This has effectively put a "journalist" on every street corner of the world and no incident is likely to occur without someone seeing it, recording it and reporting it. Unfortunately, unlike professional journalists who submit themselves to a code of ethics, these “Citizen Journalist” do not abide by such standards and their reportings can be motivated by personal agendas. Such dangers of abuse was demonstrated in Singapore when a group of teenager seat-hoggers threatened to damage a cafe's reputation when they were asked to make room for other customers. See Diagram 2.
b. Tool for Social Movement. Social networking websites like Friendster, FaceBook and Twitter, have brought together individuals with similar friends or interests into virtual communities. The homogenity of these communities, and sense of bond among “friends” with common interests, makes these communities susceptible to being organised and galvanised to support causes. Similar to the earlier example of potential abuse by citizen journalists, these virtual communities can also be abused by individuals. The Greek Riot in 2008 is a case in point where the death of a student, at the hands of the police, need not have degenerated into nation-wide violent protests. The incident could have remained contained pending investigations by the authorities. Unfortunately, irresponsible citizens began spreading unsubstantiated accusations of police brutality on social networking sites. This fanned anti-police sentiments which eventually spiralled out of control. Analysts are unanimous in their belief that social networking websites were the catalysts in the Greek riots of 2008.
Implications for Crisis Communications
As a direct result of these technological advances, the nature of Crisis Communication has fundamentally changed. In the new information environment, Crisis Communication operates in an environment in which information is:
a. Near Instantaneous Media Cycle. As acknowledged by Reuter's Director of News Media Development, Chris Cramer, “every key event going forward will be covered by members of the public and not by traditional journalists.” The omnipresence of “journalists,” coupled with technology that enable professional journalists to report the news as it develops, has compressed the media cycle and crisis response times. This compression was demonstrated in Janurary 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 crash landed in the Hudson River. In that incident, emails, tweets, photos and videos of the incident began filtering through cyberspace 15 minutes before the main-stream media even reported it . In fact, the first recorded tweet occurred 4 minutes after the incident. (See Diagram 3).