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Social media played a huge role in the Sydney siege. But not necessarily a positive one.

By Conor Duffy

A terrorism expert has warned that social media could interfere with future operations like the one which brought the Martin Place siege in Sydney to an end on Tuesday night.

“It’s natural we have that curiosity to figure that out, but somebody sending a tweet saying ‘I’ve just seen a man in SWOT gear climb a ladder’, the gunman could be hearing that in real time and making a response,” Professor Greg Barton told 7.30.

“We have to be careful. Maybe in this case it didn’t have a consequence but there’ll be other cases in the future.”

At the height of the siege, NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn confirmed that social media was hampering their ability to control information.

social media sydney siege

Catherine Burn on Monday afternoon.

“We are monitoring what’s happening on Facebook clearly,” she told reporters.

“We are monitoring what’s happening on Twitter and that is forming a part of our tactical response in how to handle this.”

But it is not just the media and a general public hungry for information that are using social media.

“Increasingly with modern terrorism we’re seeing an increased focus on getting publicity and modern media, particularly social media,” Professor Barton said. “Islamic State (IS), the latest variation of Al Qaeda, is intensely interested in media and publicity and very, very good at getting it.”

Read more about how the events of the Sydney siege unfolded here.

“And even when they’ve inspired some rather pathetic character to do something that’s not particularly professional, what they’ve achieved via this guy is getting the whole world to pay attention for a 24-hour cycle.”

The hostage taker, Man Haron Monis, was also using it to try and manipulate an outcome for his own ends, forcing one of the hostages, Marcia Mikhael, to post his demands on her Facebook page.

Dear friends and family,

I’m at the Lindt Cafe at Martin Place being held hostage by a member of the ISIS. The man who is keeping us hostage has asked for small and simple requests and none have been met.

He is now threatening to start killing us.

We need help right now. The man wants the world to know that Australia is under attack by the Islamic State.

That post was at 5:29pm (AEDT), almost seven hours into the siege, and the posts continued through the evening.

social media sydney siege

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Another post that appearred on Ms. Mikhael’s Facebook page.

Read more about Marcia Mikhael here.

Eventually Ms Mikhael’s niece pleaded for people to stop sharing her posts, warning they could put the hostages’ lives at risk.

Friends and family

Please do not share any statuses on fb from the hostages.

We are praying for my aunty and the other hostages to be released safely.

Again, please do not share or spread any messages released by the hostages on fb as the terrorist is using them as a means of communication.

This could put my aunty and the others in grave danger

“You really can’t hermetically seal information flows off anymore,” Professor Barton said.

“That reality may well have undermined the good professional response from media.

“We’ll have to sort of do the analysis and try and figure it out.”

Among it all, a message of hope did emerge on Twitter – the hashtag #illridewithyou, Australians tweeting to encourage support and friendship for Muslims travelling on public transport by offering to ride with them.

social media sydney siege

More than 300,000 people have volunteered.

This post originally appearred on the ABC and has been republished here with full permission.

Want more details about the Sydney Siege? Try these…

A reporter remembers his encounter with Sydney siege gunman, Man Haron Monis.

These are the brave hostages of the Sydney siege.

It’s over: Siege in Sydney’s Martin Place ends in shoot-out.

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