Twitter has introduced a service to the UK and Ireland that enables emergency services and government agencies to send notifications and messages to their followers.
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The microblogging service developed the functionality to help people in emergencies following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
A refined service was introduced in the US, Japan and South Korea in September, and is now available to 58 organisations in the UK and Ireland.
Tweets can be marked as alerts, which are highlighted with an orange bell on users’ timelines.
Followers can sign up for notifications directly to their mobiles by text message or a push notification from the Twitter app.
“Getting fast and accurate information to the public in a major incident or terrorist attack really could make a life-saving difference,” said commander David Martin, in charge of emergency planning for the Metropolitan Police Service.
“Using social networking sites, including Twitter, gives us additional ways to talk directly to the public. Twitter alerts mean our messages will stand out when it most matters,” he said.
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The Twitter alert service fulfils a similar function to the mobile phone alert system tested by the UK government in September, according to The Guardian.
But the government’s system, currently being tested in three parts of the UK, automatically messages every person in the affected area.
This means the service’s use is limited to pre-specified “civil emergency” events, including disease pandemics, coastal flooding and terrorist attacks.
The government system contrasts with Twitter alerts, which are an opt-in service that can be used for any purpose by the account holder.
Twitter’s alert service for emergency services is part of a broader effort after the firm’s initial public offering (IPO) earlier this month to mark urgent or interesting content in the 500 million tweets posted every day, according to the Financial Times.
The speed with which information can be disseminated through Twitter has made it one of the first places people check when they want to find out what is happening in real time, the paper said.