What do an African warlord, an imprisoned student and a boastful columnist have in common? Well, apart from being three participants on an imaginary Come Dine With Me from Hell show, Joseph Kony, Liam Stacey and Samantha Brick have all been the subject of ‘gone viral’ and then migrated into mainstream news.
It is hard to find a story which doesn’t mention Twitter these days. Journalists use it and find quotes and gauge public opinion from the medium. This demonstrates the expanding spiral of Twitter’s influence: users discuss events and make news themselves in a circular process. We have recently started to see stories in the traditional media which origniate entirely from a virtual Twitter event: such as racist comments made on the site by Liam Stacey, the backlash against Samantha Brick’s Daily Mail article and #stopkony campaign’s success on social media sites. The latter made the Today programme, Liam Stacey became a Question Time topic, and Brick appeared on ITV.
Although the three examples given vary in seriousness, like many of these ‘Twitter’ stories all three are short-lived. Such stories follow a pattern. The collective online community generally rushes to condemn at first, before a backlash against this condemnation, often with the help of columnists’ and bloggers’ blogs.
These mini dramas increasingly seem to control the news, from the Muamba sympathy started on twitter to Ed Miliband’s account woes. The obvious advantage of Twitter is that it allows anyone to communicate and take part in news creation. However, to how many people is Samantha Brick relevant? Sometimes there is the sense that twitter users tweet about the topic of the day just because everyone else is, for entertainment or to feel part of a broader movement. This cyclical news creation may be beneficial, dangerous or neither; whichever, it must seem baffling for those not connected to Twitter.