Faster than a speeding bullet – with social media there’s no stopping the speeding locomotive of anger


By Madeleine Scott-Murphy - Wells Haslem Intern

A potential US police cover-up of the shooting of an African American teenager has fuelled community resentment. And we have Twitter to thank.

Ferguson, Missouri, has become #Ferguson

The chilling events over the past 11 days have illustrated the power social media now holds over us. 

Twitter in particular has a unique ability to escalate any event. 

For Ferguson, a blow-by-blow account was posted just two minutes after the shooting took place. One person who claimed to witness the shooting immediately took to Twitter to post details and photos. A 10-minute video was also posted to YouTube captured Michael Brown’s body and police standing around it. 

A decade ago a shooting of an unarmed young black man may have received national press coverage, most likely the following day and would have run as long as editors deemed it newsworthy. Today it can turn into an international story instantly and will run for as long the public cares.

Don’t underestimate the power of Twitter. 

Downplaying the event and restricting information is no longer possible in the age of social media. 

Such fast and free information available to the entire world has never been possible before. 

Not only does this escalate the coverage and attention to the issue, but it ensures restriction of information is not possible. 

The Ferguson local police did not comprehend this. They delayed releasing details and clarifying the circumstances of the shooting, even as feelings of resentment about a potential cover-up escalated in the community around them. 
A huge error was also made by Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson by releasing the name of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown, and then later the same day, releasing footage of what is assumed to be Brown robbing a corner store shortly before he was killed. 

Not only is this obvious attempt at character assassination unhelpful, but releasing these details on the same day can be interpreted as the police attempting to justify Officer Wilson’s actions. 

Before social media such mistakes might not have received as much attention and such a PR disaster may have been avoidable, but with the invention of Twitter it is hard to get anything past the public. 

Twitter has become an early-warning service for news outlets and has a strange, potent quality that can ramp up any issue. 

My advice: lean in to the power of Twitter, and make it your own.