Twitter is at its best and its worst when breaking news is happening.
It’s the best because it provides the fastest, most up-to-date information. It’s the worst because misinformation is easily spread.
To illustrate the latter point, when Paris was attacked, Rurik Bradbury, CMO at Trustev, an ecommerce software company, tweeted out a fake bit of information from his satirical twitter account, @profjeffjarvis.
The tweet, embedded below, said that France turned off the lights on the Eiffel Tower for the first time since 1889. This was a send up of a few folks noticing that the lights were off, and thinking there was some sort of connection. There isn’t. The lights are turned off everyday.
Bradbury uses the @profjeffjarvis to satirize the tech and tech media industries. But, not everyone knows the account is a joke. As a result, his tweet started going viral, with nearly 30,000 retweets and likes. (Which is a lot for Twitter.)
The next morning, he pretended to apologise for his fake error.
After having his tweet go crazy, he wrote an email to Dave Weigel at the Washington Post about his thoughts on social media during a tragedy.
He let us rerun it here:
The social media reaction to a tragedy is a spaghetti mess of many strands, some OK but most of them useless. There are positive elements (in intention, at least), such as the #porteouverte hashtag and the Facebook “Safety Check” in Paris — though it remains to be seen how many people actually gained from these, either finding a place to stay or letting relatives know they were OK. (Also, it does trouble me that Facebook scored a PR win from Paris, furthering its agenda of becoming the de facto social identity of all humans, then monetizing this monopoly: if the Safety Check becomes a default state of affairs, is Facebook then responsible in some way for emergency responses; what are the implications when someone doesn’t post their safety status on Facebook and so on.)
But the part that feels the most useless to me is people’s vicarious participation in the event, which on the ground is a horrible tragedy, but in cyberspace is flattened to a meme like any other. Millions of people with no connection to Paris or the victims mindlessly throw in their two cents: performative signalling purely for their own selfish benefit, spreading information that is often false and which they have not vetted at all, simply for the sake of making noise. If people wanted to be helpful, they would either be silent, or they would put in some — even minimal — effort to be thoughtful. First, they could spread useful and vetted information. And second, they could throw support behind a viewpoint they believe in, such as speaking out against politicians using the attacks to demonize Muslims or migrants, which is exactly what the murderers responsible for the Paris attacks want to provoke.
Instead of silence or helpfulness, social media pukes out stupidity, virtue-signalling and vicarious “enjoyment” (in a psychoanalytic sense) of a terrible tragedy by people thousands of miles away, for whom the event is just a meme they will participate in for a couple of days, then let fade into their timeline.
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