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Having lived most of my life in Bangalore, yesterday’s bomb blasts cut pretty close to the bone. A friend of mine who works near one of the blast sites expressed his disgust at the manner in which mainstream media, especially local 24-hours news channels, dealt with the incident. Having seen the site, he described the bombs as being only “slightly larger than a firecracker.” This led me to ponder how Bangalore, with India’s highest internet penetration, high mobile penetration (in the state of Karnataka), and massive IT industry, responded to the incident. Has it created any alternative news streams based on eye-witness accounts and/or emergency-responses using digital technologies?

The blasts themselves were carried out using mobile phones, and all networks were jammed soon after the incident. It is unclear whether they were jammed intentionally, but that seems unlikely. In response to the jam, people used other means to find out about their loved ones. Blogger Mukund Mohan found that SMS worked much better as a means of communicating through blocked networks. He also started a twitter microblog keeping tabs on the blasts, casualties, and eye-witness reports, decrying the “hype” permeating local media coverage. Blastnews is another Twitter microblog keeping track of the blasts. Read this post by Daniel Bennett on From the Frontline that tracks how Twitter was used in the blasts’ aftermath.

Bangaloreans cut off from cell-phone networks also used various discussion forums to inform others of injury/death tolls, traffic reports, emergency response, and other developments. Sankalp India Foundation used their website to inform people about blood donation drives and safety measures. Bloggers like Applemilkshake used their blogs not only to discuss the incident, but also to keep readers, presumably friends and family, informed about his/her own safety.

Citizen journalist website Merinews also reported the blasts, while Wikipedia had a page up within hours describing the nature and aftermath of the blasts. They also posted this map of the blast locations. Also check out this Google map with all the blast sites marked

It’s hard to tell whether these efforts in the digital sphere played any part in calming the frayed nerves of a city that has been largely free of terrorist activity in the past. Mainstream media still have access to video footage and timely reports, but citing Daniel Bennett’s post, “media have the Bangalore story but Twitter was first.” I’ve found much less activity and up-to-date information on the internet about the long-running, intractable conflicts in India that I’ve been looking at over the past few weeks. But the volume and immediacy of the responses to Bangalore’s blasts point to the growing use of digital media as emergency-response tools. Whether this is a function of a tech-savvy, urban population, or simply a reaction to flashpoints like bomb blasts cannot be determined at this time.

Guest post by Anand Varghese

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