Twitter is making it easier for people to communicate in times of crisis as well as reducing the spread of misinformation with the introduction of a new tool for emergency organisations and users of the site.
In times of local or national crisis, selected authoritative bodies can choose to have their tweets make a bigger impression on the timelines and mobile devices of users who need them most with Twitter Alerts.
The most obvious differences between a tweet and an alert is that users will see the alert highlighted in their Twitter timeline, and they will receive a push notification to their Android or iOS device. In addition, users can choose to receive a text message whenever an account they follow publishes an alert.
The kinds of tweets which Twitter classifies as alerts include "warnings for imminent dangers", "evacuation directions" and "crowd and misinformation management". The latter category is an issue for which Twitter and its users have come under heavy fire in the past. False information regarding the 2011 London Riots and this year's Boston Marathon bombings caused problems for authorities and residents after rumours spread uncontrollably across Twitter.
The Alerts system is an opt-in choice for Twitter users, showing up as an additional step to take after following an account. More than 100 government agencies, as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the US and Japan are now using Twitter Alerts, including the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Twitter has yet to confirm whether Alerts can be altered to only be received by users in areas affected by an ongoing emergency, but V3 has asked the firm for clarification.
Organisations which meet Twitter's criteria for publishing alerts can apply through Twitter's website. This latest addition to Twitter's feature set joins a previous, similar initiative launched last year in Japan to allow users to more easily find information about major catastrophes such as earthquakes.
Twitter is soon to be made into a publicly traded company, meaning it will need to show investors that it truly understands its social responsibility. With its vociferous and much-maligned anonymous user base, Twitter often comes under fire for failing to act quickly enough to prevent libellous or aggressive tweets from being spread, which causes significant concern for advertisers and investors alike.
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