The CNN effect was coined in the 1990s to identify the influence that real-time news coverage seems to exercise on international political decision-making and, particularly, on diplomacy and foreign policy during international crises. Large news corporations cover specific information of specific issues and make these issues salient, contemporary topics. Because policy makers are media audience and, indirectly, through media’s influence upon the public, media-salient topics may set policy agendas, affect policy goals, and the pace of policy decision-making. In fact, some studies associate the CNN effect with international philanthropic response to disasters, like terrorist attacks and earthquakes.
What is the effect of twitter? Can disaster disaster tweeting be associated with an increase participation of private individuals and organizations in disaster response—something that we observe in the last five years? That is, would it be possible that the number of tweets reporting a disaster has a direct relationship with the frequency and magnitude of philanthropic response? Does a Twitter effect exist?
There is a cardinal difference between the Twitter and the CNN effects. Twitter facilitates a multiple-loop communication—a conversation between the original message sender and the receiver. First, Twitter users communicate on-going emergencies whose systemic condition fosters a multiplier effect, not only through disaster victims, but also through the victims’ social networks. Conversely to disaster reporting initiated by large news corporations, like in the case of the Ethiopian Famine in 1984-5, the point when international attention to a disaster is likely—the tipping point—can be reached independently of political and economic agendas or intermediaries between the disaster victim and the public. Second, victims and their networks are able to report on the evolution of the emergency and relief. Therefore, through disaster tweeting, the accountability of disaster-response schemes may increase. The Twitter effect may help align the interest of disaster response with the needs of the victims, and mitigate the risk of corporations trying to benefit by setting up fictional scenarios out of the disaster and local authorities providing inaccurate accounts of the emergency, as occurred during the 2013 floods and landslides in southwestern Mexico.