Like many other breaking news events in the modern day, yesterdays horrific shooting and gun battle at the Canadian parliament was covered extensively online. The event, which involved around a lone gunman, with possible Islamist sympathies, killing a soldier and then engaging in a gunfight with police around and inside Parliament House, unfolded very rapidly, and as such it was the social media network Twitter which broke most of the news.
#ottawashooting soldier has been wounded after being shot near canadian parliament— Hi! (@manav_97) October 22, 2014
Probably less than a minute after the first shots were fired near the Canadian War Memorial, Twitter users began to spread information about the unfolding situation. As the gunman then fled the scene towards parliament, Twitter users were the first to report that this incident was more than just a single shooting. Then as the true magnitude of the situation unfolded, these same users began rapidly creating lists of sources on the ground in order to draw information from.
2 shootings confirmed in Ottawa near parliament hill. Evacuating now #ottawashooting— Anne S-B (@islander613) October 22, 2014
This is surreal "@grahamctv: Shot from inside caucus room after shooting @ctvottawa #ottawashooting. pic.twitter.com/sGVbU2UKEh"— Peter R. Neumann (@PeterRNeumann) October 22, 2014
From there, they were able to break the first intense footage of the shootout with the gunman in parliament, and then to confirm that at least one man was killed. They also helped spread urges by the police for people to stay indoors and avoid posting information about police positions. Finally, they were able to beat TV news to the scoop on the names of both the victim and the alleged shooter who they were able to source photos of from IS-sympathetic Twitter accounts.
Gunfire caught on video inside Parliament. https://t.co/VGIOSF3eUD waiting for hard news, hoping 1st responders are safe. #ottawashooting— Kristin Thomas (@kristhomas) October 22, 2014
Clearly Twitter has become the premier go-to tool for journalists to report on breaking news. Due to its ease of use, and the fact that it restricts people to shot clear messages, it is perfect for brief situational updates. Furthermore, there are a wide community of other accounts on Twitter which do a brilliant job of aggregating and providing context to a particular situation before distributing this to a wider audience.
#ISIS Media account posts picture claiming to be Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, dead #OttawaShooting suspect. #Canada pic.twitter.com/kWam0E4tyX— Military Studies (@ArmedResearch) October 22, 2014
Of course, as with any platform there are downsides. In this case, primarily Twitter users were too hasty in their reporting and retweeting of information that the police were looking for additional shooters. Furthermore, many rumours were swirling around of multiple people injured or dead in the attack, something which later turned out to be an exaggeration of the truth.