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Instagrim: Social Media Reveals the Banalities and Horrors of Disaster Investigation 

Friday, Jul 12 2013

Live-Tweeting an event has come to be a symbol of our ephemeral age; cryptic, half-formed thoughts regarding NBA playoff games or episodes of Mad Men achieve worthlessness nanoseconds after their publication.

Over the weekend, though, we saw the feds live-Tweeting something deeply consequential: a barrage of messages from within the charred husk of Asiana Airlines Flight 214.

National Transportation Safety Board public affairs officer Keith Holloway says this has been the agency's standard operating procedure for several years. The NTSB can take months or even years determining what led to fiery accidents. But it wastes no time in posting photos of said accidents onto a bevy of social media platforms. Along with its much-used Twitter page, with nearly 2,700 Tweets and some 37,000 followers, it regularly posts to Flickr, YouTube, its official webpage, and even a staff blog on Wordpress. Holloway confirms there is no NTSB Facebook page, at least not yet.

The NTSB snapshots adhere to the old wartime saying about long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror. Scores of images of men, women, and children struggling through safety summits and attentive driving forums are interspersed with photos of the twisted wreckage of derailed coal cars, ruptured pipelines, collapsed bridges, and, of course, downed aircraft. The NTSB doesn't yet run its own Tumblr page. But, in effect, it's already established a People in Polo Shirts Looking at (Broken) Things feed.

The NTSB Flickr set on Asiana Flight 214 features 11 photos. The Twitter feed features 15 photos and, as of press time, more than 40 crash-related Tweets. Soon, however, San Francisco's turn in this undesirable spotlight will end. An NTSB Tweet in the midst of Asiana Air-related matters noted that a "Go Team" was en route to Soldonta, Alaska, to sift through the wreckage of a Haviland DHC-3 charter plane. Photos of the blackened, severed tail section of the air taxi are already up on the NTSB page, along with scattered detritus from a former Beech Baron B-55 that crashed in the vicinity of Cantwell, Alaska, in late June.

In San Francisco, pain and questions linger. For @NTSB, however, there is always another disaster to investigate. And Tweet.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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