Last Friday was one of bloodshed and horror in Kuwait. The country, which has not been affected by regional sectarian issues in the same manner as its neighbours Iraq and Saudi Arabia, experienced something truly terrible. During Friday prayers, when men gather to pray together in the mosque, a suicide bomber entered one such mosque with the intent to kill as many of those inside as possible. To date, twenty seven people inside the Imam Sadiq Mosque, a place of worship for Shia Muslims. Two hundred people were injured.
Apart from the horror of this atrocity, which Islamic State claimed responsibility for, what is telling is the speed and amount of information which spread via social media, particularly WhatsApp, in the Gulf.
I was receiving messages about the bombing two hours before the news had made it onto websites such as Al Jazeera English. Not only was the information written down, but people were sharing both images and video thanks to the proliferation of smartphones as well as the availability of high-speed mobile data services.
Below is just a selection of the images that I received on that day.
What’s fascinating is not just the speed of information, but also the accuracy of that information. When Al Jazeera Arabic made a mistake with the name and picture of the suspected bomber an image was shared on social media of the correct suspect.
In addition, the amount of information was remarkable. While global networks provided a couple of minutes of coverage about the bombing, the images and video shared via Whatsapp built up a comprehensive picture of the incident, including video footage of the scene as well as interviews with witnesses and survivors. Unlike the news networks, many of whom don’t have correspondents in Kuwait, this was amazing, in-depth reportage of the Imam Sadiq bombing. Just two of the videos I received are below.
What was missing from all of this was context. On the same day there were terrorist incidents in both Tunisia and France, one of which was claimed by ISIS. Due to the local interest in Kuwait on my Whatsapp channels, no news on these two events was shared. This was a different story on the news networks where the three stories came together into one coherent piece on ISIS and its aim to spread terror across the Middle East and Europe.
Is the Imam Sadiq mosque bombing an example of citizen journalism working at its best in the Gulf? If so, how can media outlets catch up to ensure they have access to this information at the same time as its distribution through both private messaging networks such as WhatsApp as well as open platforms such as Instagram and Twitter? Twitter is looking to bring in a head of media partnerships for the MENA region, to work with publishers. It’ll be interesting to see how this and other efforts to get news outlets to work through social media impacts their ability to tell the story accurately in real time.
On a final note, my thoughts are with those who experienced this terrible incident. May all of those who were injured make a speedy recovery, and those who died always be remembered.