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What would 9/11 have been like with Twitter?

I asked my Twitter followers this morning what it would have been like had Twitter been around during the Sept. 11 attacks. It seems crazy that only 11 years ago, we didn't even have smart phones integrated with cameras and 3G Internet. There was no Facebook or YouTube. The term "smartphone" didn't even exist until 1997, when it was introduced by Ericsson; Blackberries didn't come out until 1999. The first iPhone wasn't introduced until Jan. 9, 2007 -- and it didn't even hit the market until June 29 of that year. Even blogging was in its infancy: Blogger was introduced in August 1999, but Moveable Type didn't come out until Sept. 3, 2001 -- eight days before 9/11. Friendster, the precursor to Facebook, went live in 2002, and MySpace (remember that?) launched in August 2003. Windows had its PocketPCs, running a crude forerunner to the Windows Mobile platform, but few found them useful. People were still using Palm Pilots.

So what would 9/11 have been like with today's brave new world of mobile social media? The responses to my tweet were interesting, so I thought I'd share them here:

Jake Tapper: oh good Lord

Brendan Byrne: First person perspective horror.

Doctor Longscarf: Horrifying

James Piechura: Imagine instagram

Scott McKenzie: Would've increased feelings of panic

Tim Miller: Disagree with more panic. Would've had more info quicker which leads to less panic

Nabilah Irshad: 9/11 would've broken Twitter

Pfeifer: More workers wld have left both towers after 1st plane

Dave Levy: Data networks would have gone down faster than the cell nets did; would induce more anxiety.

Brad Cundiff: possible that some that went up instead of down in tower 2 could have been made aware of passable areas.

Luke Alnutt: Twitter would have also spread unimaginable panic, rumor, and misinformation IMO.

Some folks noted that we do have some suggestion of what Twitter would be like, assuming it stayed up at all: the records of pager text messages from that day that were later released by WikiLeaks. They tell a story of panic and confusion. Here's a sampling:

08:50:25 A plane crashed thru the twin towers. Real bad..BR

08:51:37 THE WORLD TRADE CENTER HAS JUST BLOWN UP, WE SEEN THE EXPLOSION OUTSIDE OUR WINDOWS. TERESA...

08:54:27 LARRY, CALL BRIAN. WANT TO KNOW IF OUR MEN ARE OKAY, SAW A PLANE HIT BLDG.

08:56:37 From: Gross, Kate (Exchange)- holy s---! a plane just hit the top of the world trade center!

09:00:39 HI IT'S NANCY CALL ME. I WANT TO KNOW IF YOU'RE OK BECAUSE OF THE PLANE THAT HIT THE TWI

09:01:20 ade center damaged; unconfirmed reports say a plane has crashed into tower. MARSH AND NYMEX IMPACTED

09:01:53 Plane crash into World Trade Center. All MTA PD midnight units being held over. MTAPD Comm Ctr (1/1)

09:03:46 PLEASE GIVE ARIEL A CALL RE: CASUALTIES AT THE WORLD TRADR CTR AIRPLANE CRASH.

09:04:37 PLEASE CALL YOUR FATHER, STAT, AT, PAGER #22

09:04:39 YOUR SISTER JOE SAW THE NEWS AND WANT TO KNOW IF YOU ARE OKAY. PLEASE CALL ME AT WORK AND LEAVE A MESSAGE IF I AM NOT AT MY DESK.

*

09:04:57 CAN YOU CALL MOM AT HOME.

09:05:33 PLANES JUST HIT THE WORLD TRADE CENTER WITHIN 15 MINS! IT'S HORRIBLE...

As for me, I found out about the attacks from a homeless man with a small radio -- I was in New Haven, Connecticut, on my way to drop two Japanese visitors off at the train station. I was imagining a small private plane, like a Piper Cub, and didn't realize the magnitude of what had happened until I showed up at my office, only to see the towers collapse. My major source of news was CNN, and I distinctly remember seeing Tom Clancy -- author of The Sum of All Fears, in which Arab terrorists detonate a nuclear bomb at Mile-High Stadium -- brought on to tell us what had happened and why. It was the sort of day that took a novelist to explain, I thought at the time, because he was one of the few who had actually imagined it.

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Syria is more violent than Iraq at its worst

 Iraq's civil war traumatized the Middle East unlike any other event in the past decade. It destroyed Iraq's political and social fabric, contributed to the polarization of the Arab world along sectarian lines, and caused the United States to abandon its ambitious plans to remake the region. But by the numbers, the conflict raging in Syria today appears to be bloodier than even the worst years of the Iraq war.

According to the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC), an activist website that monitors the conflict's death toll of the conflict, 5,037 people were killed in Syria this August. That made it the bloodiest month of the war: 3,761 people were killed in July, and 2,204 people were killed in June.

How do those numbers compare with the Iraqi casualties during the height of the civil war? According to the Brookings Institution's Iraq Index, which has tallied civilian and military casualties since the beginning of the war, 34,500 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2006, and 2,091 Iraqi military and police also lost their lives - a total of 3,049 Iraqis per month.

There's another factor that makes the bloodshed in Syria look even worse: It's a much smaller country than Iraq. According to World Bank figures, Iraq's population hovers around 33 million, while Syria's population is roughly 21 million people. Even if Syria only matched Iraq's casualty count, it would mean that Syria, for the average person, would remain a much more dangerous place.

Think of it this way. Syria has 64 percent of the population of Iraq. If the violence in Syria this August was repeated across a country the size of Iraq, 7,915 people would be expected to lose their lives each month.

There are a number of caveats to all this. Most importantly, comparing the numbers from an activist organization like the VDC -- which collects casualty reports from the anti-Assad local coordinating committees across Syria -- to the Iraq Index is a fraught process. The coordinating committees have an incentive to tally each death and report a high number, in an effort to spur international action against the Syrian regime. The Iraq Index, on the other hand, primarily gathered data during the worst years of the war from the U.S. government, which had an incentive to downplay casualties.

Nevertheless, the Iraq Index's tally of civilian casualties matches, and often exceeds, the death toll reported by independent third parties. For instance, Iraq Body Count, which measures civilian deaths from press reports, states that 28,806 Iraqi civilians were killed in 2006 -- 6,000 less deaths than counted by the Iraq Index. From the beginning of the war to the present, the Iraq Index finds that 116,400 civilians -- a death toll that agrees with Iraq Body Count's findings.

In the end, this comparison tells us -- well, precisely nothing. The bloodshed in Iraq is not any more tolerable because Syria is in the midst of its own tragedy; Syrians, meanwhile, don't need such statistics to know the extent of their suffering. However, it is a stark reminder of the human cost of the Syrian revolt, which promises to define the next era of Middle East politics in the same way that Iraq defined the last.

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