Russian authorities continue to investigate the crash of the train “Nevsky Express”[ENG] that happened between Moscow and St. Petersburg on Friday night. According to officials, the tragedy that took lives of at least 25 passengers was a terrorist attack. The crash raised a number of questions. Many people ask what happened during the first hours after the crash and why it took so long to start reporting on it.
Since the tragedy happened far from any major populated area, it took several hours for reporters to arrive on the spot. Only then the first photographs and videos started to appear everywhere. But what happened to social media platforms that actively reported on the plane crash in Perm [ENG] in September 2008?
The only passenger who immediately reported about the crash of “Nevsky Express” was a Twitter user Lazy Frog. She tweeted 12 times about the crash before she arrived home. Here is what she wrote:
I am alive. But I should tell about it later. If someone tells anything in news, please write me. They don't tell us anything here.
Later, many passengers from first cars – only last cars were derailed – said they were clueless for the whole hour after the crash. Lazy Frog posted few additional updates:
We boarded another train. I did whatever I could to help.
We are now at SAPSAN (new train that evacuated passengers to St. Petersburg – G.A.). I wish it would go slower.
They announced now that specially trained people would meet us at the train station.
The day after the tragedy, Lazy Frog summarized her experience:
I felt the first emotions about what happened when we got closer to Piter (St. Petersburg – G.A.). I wasn't worried at the place of the crash. I was a little concerned about my shoes – it was so muddy around and sharp stones.
Saturday revealed more first-hand information when passengers started blogging about their experiences. The most popular blog post related to the topic was written by LJ user paltus_mk [RUS] who was in one of the last cars heavily damaged by an explosion. He wrote [RUS]:
All that happens within 10 seconds when you understand what is about to occur. I had enough time to prepare my body. But nothing can help against the Newton's laws when dozens of tons of metal suddenly stop at high speed – just luck … …therefore I was just lucky. My brother was lucky, too, despite the fact that his wounds were more serious than mine.
Everything from something that went wrong till the full stop took about 30 seconds. It was dark and silent. Then wounded people started to cry. I was on the floor, smashed by other bodies. I moved the bodies. I saw that I was covered with blood but it wasn't mine. I saw that I am ok and my hand\legs work. I had a bleeding wound in my head. I had to get up and waited for some time before men with less serious injuries cleaned the way out.
Suffering was all around. We were sitting at the end of the train car and all the bags flied toward us. A lot of wounded people around. Durng the first minutes after the crash, the car was just a buch of bodies, chairs and parts of the train that were equally distributed around.
Paltus_mk tells the story of evacuation from the first minutes after the crash with many details but, at the same time, avoids description that may disturb readers. He writes that passengers started providing the first aid to each other heroically and without panic. He says it was impossible to count how many people died. The rescuers arrived only an hour and a half after the crash. Paltus_mk and his brother were finally evacuated to a local hospital and he later arrived to St. Petersburg.
Another survival story was published by a blogger pancakyes on another Russian blogging service Ya.ru . Her train car was not damaged by the explosion. She published her first post at 22:11 – a half an hour after the crash – right from the place of the tragedy. She wrote that the train stopped because of some accident, few cars were derailed and she would come home later than expected. Almost an hour later, she added that there were victims in the last two cars. On Saturday, pancakyes published the whole story of the crash [RUS] as she witnessed it:
We felt few shakes that were getting stronger and stronger. Things started to fall down from the table. It was not clear what happened. No announcements. First, we were thinking that it wasn't serious. Maybe someone stopped the train by accident. But conductors with pale faces started running around collecting mattresses, tablecloths and water. They asked us not to leave our seats unless we are doctors. We heard some bad things from their radios. Some rumors started to go around. We didn't believe that two cars were disconnected and they were so far. Later, we fund out that it was true.
We went out and wanted to help. Went up untill the third car. […] We didn't want to be just gawkers and make a crowd without any opportunity to help. We also didn't want to see what people who came from there told us.
Immediately after the crash, social media platforms became the first place where Russian journalist were looking for information. A reporter from a Russian news agency RIA-Novosty left a comment on the pancakyes‘ blog and asked her to call him immediately. Tatyana Landa (LJ user Elada) wrote on her blog [RUS] about a friend who was on the train but survived. Two reporters immediately left comments asking her to contact them. Tatyana later published an angry post [RUS] where she told that a journalist from “Komsomolskaya pravda” (Russian tabloid newspaper) was trying to call her several times during that night. The post turned to a place were people started to discuss if journalists can use bloggers as sources of information about the train crash. Reporters also tried to contact a blogger who wrote [RUS] that she had decided not to take the “Nevsky Express” at the last minute.
Some bloggers expressed their frustration [RUS] with the fact that so few people from the train used social media to report about what was happening. And, apparently, there are several explanations why social media didn't play major role in the coverage of the “Nevsky express” tragedy.
Twitter, the most convenient platform for live blogging, is relatively unpopular in Russia. According to twitRU [RUS], there are only 2,700 Twitter users who write in Russian language. At the same time, popular Russian blogging platforms as Livejournal.com or ya.ru could have been used for live reporting but, as discussed above, there is only a couple of examples of this use.
The second explanation is related to the role of mobile devices and connectivity. The number of portable devices in the country is growing. More and more Russians can use Internet and various Web-applications on the go. This trend is especially strong in the area of Moscow and St. Petersburg. But the crash happened far from any metropolitan area where, as witnesses reported, the cell phone coverage was limited. A blogger pancakyes recollects the connectivity problem:
The phone connection was very bad. Everyone probably tried to make a call at the same time and the net was overloaded. I started to get SMSs only when I was on the second train (the one that took passengers to Saint-Petersburg – G.A.). I could use the Internet occasionally, but it was very difficult.
In contrast, the plane crash in Perm last year provided many opportunities for citizen reporting:
1. The plane crashed within the city borders where many people could see what happened right from their windows. The “Nevsky express” crash, as noted earlier, happened the rural area.
2. The social media coverage in Perm was based on the accounts of those who witnessed the crash but were not part of it (unfortunately, there were no survivors on the plane). All the witnesses of the “Nevsky Express” incident were passengers on the train.
3. Most people posted their updates on the plane crash in Perm using their home computers. The “Nevsky Express” survivors had to rely on their mobile devices.
These differences explain why social media reporting was prevalent in the case of the plane crash and almost absent in the situation with “Nevsky Express.”
It is also possible to claim that Russia has not yet developed the tradition of social media reporting. That is why only two passengers were motivated enough to go online and assume the role of citizen reporters. It may also explain the hostility of passengers and bloggers toward journalists who were looking for information on the crash in social media.
It looks like the Russian blogosphere is still far from being a major source for breaking news. It still remains as a place for distribution of information and broad discussions about what has happened.