January 8’s tragic shooting in Tucson, AZ illustrated a few things about the modern media landscape that very few people understand and even fewer have the ability to influence. It showed the usefulness of interconnected social media platforms, it showed the power of the web for research and, most of all, it showed that too many people still don’t get Twitter.
Twitter is not a singular entity. It’s not a place to gather 100% accurate information. It is not the lifeblood of real-time communication in our country and the world, but it’s part of it. Twitter, like any medium since the telegraph, telephone, group email or mass text, is fallible. It is only as accurate or as strong as its weakest link.
And we…we are a lot of weak links. We are scared, we are curious and we are mostly unafraid to share what we’re thinking in a disconnected way. Yesterday’s shooting of AZ Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, along with six dead and ten wounded, illustrated our country’s need for each other more than any event since the last one. People didn’t turn to Twitter just for the facts, they turned to Twitter for emotional support. They turned to Twitter for catharsis. They turned to Twitter to digitally hold hands with people they weren’t and couldn’t be near.
In the face of such inhumanity by alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner and possibly an accomplice, it’s important to take stock of our own humanity. We must take and hold others to a level of responsibility when it comes to sharing non-vetted facts or passing along rumors. We must demand more from each other.
Twitter is a good place to measure the temperature of public opinion. Are we outraged? Sad? Do we love something new? But it, like any other diagnosis, is incomplete without a full examination. If we also remember just where a thermometer is inserted on a body, we can better understand that sites like Twitter aren’t always the best representation of what we’re thinking, but rather feeling and we often don’t control what comes out.
My condolences to the six deceased individuals and my best wishes for those injured and the families of everyone involved. I hope we can all use these new mediums to react together, mourn together and heal together.
I hope we use them to be more human.