9/11, Twitter, and the kind of time-warps allowed therein

9/11, Twitter, and the kind of time-warps allowed therein

The Next Web has an interesting analysis on The Guardian‘s well-intentioned but ultimately badly-received Twitter account chronicling the 9/11 attacks as if they were 10 years in the past: @911tenyearsago. The article itself has got a pretty good take on the entire affair, but here are my own thoughts on it.

For me, the failure of that account is twofold. Twitter, for better or for worse, is a medium that is for the here and the now. From “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”, the purpose of Twitter has always been present-tense. To have an account trapped in the past tweeting about events as if they were happening in the present, is not just incongruous but also misleading and, for those who harbour traumatic memories of that day, very hurtful.

Sure, it’s an constructed artifice, and there are tons of fake accounts out there playing “let’s pretend!” and have been very successful doing it (@MayorEmanuel while it lasted, anyone?). But that’s entertainment. 9/11 is a different beast althogether: the singular nature of its tragedy, its freshness in living memory, and its profound global impact sets it apart from almost everything else. In the newsroom we were warned to tread around all the stories about “9/11 ten years later” as though they were covered in eggshells; it baffles me how the editors at The Guardian thought that this might be a good idea.

But perhaps the thing that baffles me the most is the rationale behind starting up a completely separate account for a one-time-only use. Social media is no different from other platforms – even as a news media entity everything you do with social media should be looked at from a business perspective. Starting up a separate account won’t boost the analytics you get out of your main Twitter account.

Furthermore, since the account would only see use for one day (it’s right there in the username! One day. One date), any followers the account picked up would be tied to an account whose relevance would vanish the very next day.  Whereas incorporating a series of “ten years ago, this happened” tweets into the main account’s timeline will boost retweets and might have picked up a few new followers along the way (big events usually have that effect on news accounts).

So, I’m not quite sure what the folks at The Guardian were doing (and I say this as someone who loves the work The Guardian does). I’d have expected a stunt like this from an art collective maybe trying to say something about the transient nature of time and our relation to it (or something similarly artfaluty-sounding). But not a major news organisation. Hopefully there’s a lesson to be learned in all this!


In other news, I’ve been intending to do a post on social media during the recently concluded Presidential Election in Singapore … ever since said election concluded. Which is drawing close to a month by now. I should really do something about that procrastination habit of mine…

(Yes, that post is coming, I promise! Stay tuned for more rambling nonsense passing itself off as insightful analysis.)

(Top image: Twitter escultura de arena by flickr user Rosaura Ochoa)

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