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How to Snapchat During a Crisis

At the turn of the millennium striking predictions were made about the future of technology. The year was 1900. The author in question, John Elfreth Watkins Jr. Writing for The Ladies’ Home Journal Watkins made a full-page spread of predictions for the next hundred years. He envisaged what the year 2001 would look like.

“Wireless telephone and telegraph circuits will span the world.” He wrote.

“A husband in the middle of the Atlantic will be able to converse with his wife sitting in her boudoir in Chicago. We will be able to telephone China quite readily as we now talk from New York to Brooklyn. By an automatic signal they will connect with any circuit in their locality without the intervention of a ”hello girl.””

Here he foresaw our modern communication network. Watkins could not know of the internet as the modern computer had not even been thought of. Herman Hollerith had only ten years previously designed the punch card system to count the 1880 US census. A vast improvement, it only took three years to calculate instead of seven!

And while he foresaw our telecommunications network he also foresaw its use:

“Photographs will be Telegraphed from any distance. If there be a battle in China a hundred years hence snapshots of its most striking events will be published in the newspapers an hour later. Even to-day photographs are being telegraphed over short distances. Photographs will reproduce all of Nature’s colors.”

Indeed, Watkins was correct. We now see our internet used to share vast amounts of photographs and videos on a daily basis.

We even see it used to share footage uploaded by those impacted right at the scene of an event. Rather than shared via telegraph we share it using social media.

This can be invaluable to others trying to establish what is going on.

Take these videos of the Mallacoota bushfire in Victoria, Australia. I recorded these off of Snapchat using an OSINT technique I have been advocating for some time. Using Snapchat I was able to get an almost live image from the fire-ground.

This footage is not in isolation. Just north of this fire another was burning at the same time. While the media had already focused on the one at Mallacoota, Batemansbay was not gathering as much attention on Twitter.

However, the fire in Batemansbay New South Wales was just as ferocious as shown in this longer video taken in just the same way.

In fact, in another video uploaded to the Snapmap, you could see an entire community huddle in a surf life-saving club as the fire descended. The power was out and it was almost pitch black due to the smoke in the air. The scene was reminiscent of a cold war nuclear bomb drill, only this was real.

Posting videos to social media can be invaluable for getting information out of these isolated communities impacted or cut off due to natural disasters, war, or man-made disruptions. However, this can only be done if people share their recordings and upload them publically to the Snapmap.

Through this method, facts can be verified from local news sources and may even influence decision-makers who do not have “eyes and ears” on the ground.

Soon after I uploaded these videos to Twitter, local news media started to use the same OSINT technique to re-record and share the same footage.

While it is fantastic to see the news media finally using this OSINT tool, perhaps if only one of Watkins’ other predictions had become true we could have avoided these catastrophes in Australia.

“Coal will not be used for heating or cooking… Man will have found electricity manufactured by water-power to be much cheaper. Every river or creek with any suitable fall will be equipped with water-motors, turning dynamos, making electricity. Along the seacoast will be numerous reservoirs continually filled by waves and tides washing in. Out of these the water will be constantly falling over revolving wheels. all of our restless waters, fresh and salt, will thus, be harnessed to do the work which Niagara is doing to-day: making electricity for heat, light and fuel.”

We can only hope 2020 is a new year.

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