Reporting Violence via Twitter

Posted by Nicole Sternhagen 

An innapropriate time to tweet?

A shooting, stabbing, and beating all in one night in the Drake Neighborhood.

Or so we thought.

The sequence of events unfolding on a Sunday night was broadcasted, play-by-play over Twitter, causing people to misinterpret, and perhaps overreact, to the crime in the area.

Twitter, using the ability to broadcast something from wherever you are, whenever it is happening, has changed the way people around the world receive and react to news.

In my personal experience, Twitter has kept me informed of the on-goings in my neighborhood and school faster than any news source out there. On one particular night, I heard about a shooting, stabbing, and beating that all supposedly happened in one night. Here is an excerpt straight from my Twitter newsfeed:

Person 1: CSI is goin down outside . . . crazy neighborhood. My roommate is a witness! 47 seconds ago

Person 2: I am enjoying the live showing of CSI outside of my house. Cops and lights all over. Dad and Mom are gonna like this 🙂 1 minute ago

Person 3: I just realized I’m a witness to a crime…this is so uncomfortable :S 5minutes ago

Person 4: I feel like I’m back in Waukegan with the craziness going on in the Drake area… 11 minutes ago (only those from the Chicago area will get this one)

Person 5: 4 police cars and a crime scene investigation van at the house two doors down….i feel safe 14 minutes ago

The tweets that occurred before the above went something like this, “police cars across from my dorm,” “stabbing in the Walgreens parking lot!” “Some guy shot his girlfriend in the apartments across the street!”
Other tweets quickly fueled the fiery gossip and the story escalated into a warped version of what had really happened.

The real story turned out to be quite a bit different, but as that story came out much later than the information on Twitter, the damage had already been done.

We need to be aware that what we tweet can have a dramatic effect on perception of events, especially serious ones. Any scenario blown out of proportion could lead to a serious overreaction. Would we be so thankful for this instant news source if it led to a panic? How much can we trust Twitter when people can post anything and everything they want on it, based off of any assumption they make?

Once again, the role of everyone as a gate keeper comes into play when it comes to social media. Journalists, already facing the colossal threat of news on the Internet are also facing the rampant world of Twitter instant rumors. Twitter allows eye-witnesses to inform followers of any danger, but sometimes all is not what it seems. Sometimes issues need to be left alone to be fully resolved before conclusions are made. Do you whip out your phone to tweet the second something interesting happens? Who defines newsworthiness? Have you ever tweeted a firsthand account of a crime?

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6 responses to “Reporting Violence via Twitter

  1. I completely agree with you, and you present a relevant point. It is very easy to get caught in the quick, large variety of information Twitter offers. One could mistake false information for fact. One could tweet lies without recognizing it. Twitter, like any other media source, must be fact checked. Journalists need to look for credible sources, double-check information before using it.

    • Nicole Sternhagen

      Nicely put, Jackie! I think this topic makes the role of a journalist in everyday society more relevant than ever. Today’s culture needs to learn that information should not be abused and it is SO important to get your facts right.

  2. I can’t believe someone’s first reaction to a crime would be to post it on Twitter. I would be mortified to be thinking about publishing the news. Like Jackie says, Twitter needs to be fact checked. It’s quick and it’s updated by the second, but we need to be responsible in what we read and interpret.

  3. Jessica Anderson

    I agree that people’s first reaction after witnessing a crime should not be to post in on Twitter–it should be to alert the authorities. But I think that witnesses reacting on Twitter aren’t trying to provide a news feed about the event. I think that they’re really just trying to alert their followers about something interesting that happened to them. I think that Tweeting in these circumstances is just replacing a phone call or other mode of communication to loved ones or friends. I don’t think that their intention is to inform followers about a news event, and I think that readers need to discern between reliable news sources and a social media website.

  4. I can agree that Twitter shouldn’t be the first place someone runs after witnessing a crime but I also agree with Jessica in that reliable news outlets on Twitter can be of great importance during similar situations. I follow Daniel Finney (@DM_in_the_PM), a reporter who covers a lot of the Des Moines police blotter, and its always interesting to see what news in unfolding around the city.

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