Sporadic Twitter outages that kept some from using the social media network Tuesday morning highlight the importance of having “other options” for sharing information, an Internet expert said.
While the disruption is unsettling for the average person, it can pose a significant obstacle for those who rely on Twitter for work, such as first responders and politicians, said Elizabeth Dubois of the University of Ottawa.
Most people turn to Twitter to “get their news, to have a chat with friends, to debate political issues, that kind of thing,” she said.
“So the disruption there is it’s part of your daily life and all of a sudden you don’t have access to it and you haven’t built any sort of second-choice option for those things over your morning commute or at your desk, and so it feels off-putting,” she said.
The more “substantial issue” is when outages interfere with the real-time sharing of information crucial to the public interest, such as police and government updates in emergency situations, she said.
Law enforcement, public officials and journalists are among the 12 million Canadians who have embraced the 140-character missives to keep informed and connect with the public.
Police forces across Canada tweet out alerts about active investigations, traffic accidents and other hazards, and monitor the site for leads.
“It’s one of those things that you don’t realize how valuable it is until you don’t have it anymore,” said Toronto police Insp. Chris Boddy.
“(People) know that we post things about road closures, traffic delays, collisions and today it was, for the most part, information that couldn’t be obtained.”
The force, which began training officers to use Twitter four years ago, turned to other methods, including other social media platforms, to get the word out, but Boddy said Twitter remains “the simplest and one of the most effective.”
Even the Senate has harnessed the immediacy of Twitter to draw attention to its work. Sen. David Wells said he has also used the network while at committee hearings to get suggestions of issues to raise with his colleagues.
“Twitter is a great tool for getting information out immediately and when you lose that immediacy, obviously you lose that effectiveness at getting your message out,” he said.
So long as other avenues of communication are available, however, a brief malfunction might not have a lasting impact, he said.
“A couple of hours is simply an inconvenience — it’s not devastating.”
A spokesman for Twitter said the site tends to “index highly in industries including politics, sports, entertainment, journalist/media and tech/digital.”
The company acknowledged that some users were “experiencing problems” accessing the site for several hours due to an internal code change, and said the problem was not centralized to any particular region. An update at 1 p.m. said the issue had been resolved.
The site has suffered several service disruptions so far this year.
On Monday, some users could not access Twitter on mobile and web for about 10 minutes. The service was also disrupted on Friday for about 20 minutes.
Dubois, whose research focuses on technology and communication, said social media users can’t count on a one-stop shop given technology’s fallible nature.
“Right now, what we see with Twitter, these kinds of interruptions in service are pretty limited, they’ve only happened for a couple of hours here and there…and so it hasn’t been a big issue,” she said.
“But if we were to see longer ones, it would become a much more significant problem in terms of information access.”