As The New York Times struggled to get its site back online, the paper turned to often ephemeral social media to put out its stories. Earlier today, the site began suffering unknown technical difficulties, pulling it completely offline for over an hour. Unfortunately, while the outage wasn't long, it was enough to threaten reporting of one of the week's biggest stories: a violent clash in Egypt that left over a hundred people — and possibly many more — dead. To get out news of the Cairo protests, the Times turned to a system that's usually supplemental: posting updates on social media.
For the next hour, the account tweeted news from Egypt, but as the site remained down, full stories began being published — this time as long updates on the Times' Facebook page. While live-tweeting is a common way to break news, under normal circumstances, social media is a way to draw people into a site, not a substitute. Indeed, not long after, service was restored, and the pieces were added to the main site.
It's tempting to say that this is another sign of social media supplanting traditional outlets; after all, Gawker and Buzzfeed turned to Tumblr when their servers were taken down by Hurricane Sandy. The plethora of options can certainly make it easier to keep the presses running, even if one service hiccups, and various social media tools have positioned themselves as a replacement to traditional news. But Twitter, Facebook, and hosting tools like Amazon Web Services can also create bottlenecks: something as simple as a broken linking system can take down an entire medium. For the Times, however, these centralized social networks undoubtedly worked in its favor today.