Twitter Overload

With all the hype surrounding Twitter and its use during emergencies, it is disconcerting to find out that Twitter has limits that can impact your ability to communicate in a crisis. The Calgary Police Department found this out the hard way during the recent catastrophic flooding.

Calgary Police (@CalgaryPolice) was using its Twitter account to aid the public in mass evacuations when late in the day, Twitter informed the department it had exceeded its daily allotment of tweets and froze the account – putting the police in ‘Twitter jail.’

‘Twitter jail’ is what the Twitterverse calls the lockdown after tweeting more than 100 times per hour, or 1000 times per day. The lockdown can last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours.

The lockdown of the Calgary Police’s account prevented them from being able to directly respond to citizens tweeting them to get more information about road closures and evacuations. A Constable in the Digital Communications Unit had to take over tweeting from his personal account, gradually spreading the word on evacuations and notifications aided by retweets from followers and supporters such as the Saskatoon police department.

Twitter eventually realized the error and restored the police department’s account.

With the rising importance of Twitter as a crisis communications tool, this is the first publicized failure of the system in this manner. It emphasizes the importance of using multiple communication channels rather than relying on one alone.

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