Two deadly explosions in Moscow metro became the main theme in the Runet (Russian Internet) on March 29, 2010. The blasts occurred during the morning rush hour in central Moscow. The first was at the Lubyanka metro station (7:50 am), the second came 40 minutes later at the Park Kultury station.

Social media in this extreme situation appeared to be much faster than traditional media. But despite the activity and efficiency, it also became a source of panic and misinformation as well.

Here, Olga Rasulova, Director, Digital Department, Edelman Imageland Russia discusses the positive and negative aspects about social media’s role in the attack response.

1. 40 Tweets per second

The tragedy in Moscow metro has become an example of how news now moves much faster than traditional media often allows: “40 Tweets per second on the terrorist attacks in the Moscow metro vs. only 4 TV newscasts in the morning” via @krassnova. People were very active in sharing the information from the places where the tragedy took place. While the Twitter user base in Russia is not very large at only 183 thousand users, everyone including TV channels and the Russian government saw Twitter’s value.

2. Check what you retweet

As good as Twitter was at facilitating quick transmission and response, it also spread rumors and unverified facts. The information sometimes appeared to be incorrect or without links to sources. Twitter was full of rumors such as ”I’ve heard that another explosion occurred at another metro station“ or ”Officials don’t speak about the new explosions, why?! “. Thousands of retweets of unchecked information created significant panic among users.

3. Hashtags: real help – real spam

People used Twitter to lend a helping hand by encouraging blood donations or appealing to car owners to drive people from the metro and bring them to their destinations for free (as opposed to using taxi drivers who raised the prices for their services.) To make these efforts easier to follow and coordinate, Twitter members used hash tags like #metro29 and  #moscow. At the same time, however, some unethical marketers used these hash tags for spam and advertising, taking advantage of the high levels of interest.

4. Lack of control

Videos and photos that people gathered and placed on their blogs inspired passionate debates about the ethical aspects of posting the pictures of victims without the permission of their relatives. Moreover, such content was posted and distributed uncut among unprepared users. The lack of editorial control shocked people.

5. Mr. President on Twitter

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is going to launch his official microblog on Twitter in the near future. In related news, the Presidential Administration sent an official notification to the administration of Twitter with request to remove the fake Medvedev account, which was very active during the Moscow metro terrorist attack.