When Not to Tweet | Discretion Needed

Read an article in the Cape Times online a few minutes ago about the sad passing of a hiker in front of his children at Lion’s Head yesterday. The interviewed Samaritan who tried to assist the man who fell from a cliff was very critical of the tweeting onlookers. I asked followers @capetown what they think and some followers have replied with shared disgust, and believe that there are times that the phones need to be put aside – when human interaction and indeed, human life! is at stake:

The comments on FaceBook left no doubt that people find the behaviour totally unacceptable, with one Thokozani Dube calling most tweeters ‘a bunch of useless individuals’. I have covered the story via mimiCapeTown when I saw the first tweets about it, and I would like to also offer the perspective that some times tweets could also speed up or prompt action.

It remains important to use discretion when it may be more critical to help in person, rather than to call on, or report to, emergencies services. Obviously the gentleman (bless him!) who assisted the fallen hiker felt that he had too little support from the other ‘onlookers’ and this is indeed an indictment! (Unless one highlights the point that one should refrain from giving medical assistance without proper training, and just keep the injured person comfortable and render emotional support – which he was doing already).

Jon Gelberg writes an article about ‘When not to Tweet‘ for business. On a more personal level, I love some of the following Twitter etiquette tips from a blogger that is in the ‘know’:

  • Don’t tweet while you’re driving (equals to ‘don’t drink and drive’)
  • Don’t tweet while you’re having sex (a major turn off for your partner)
  • Don’t tweet while you’re in the bathroom
  • Don’t tweet when you’re spending some quality time with your family
  • Don’t tweet while you’re having a meal (unless you’re alone)
  • Don’t tweet during funeral or religious ceremonies
  • Don’t tweet during a business meeting

And let’s then add? Don’t tweet when you could Save someone’s life, or support someone who is busy saving someone’s life. Or is it as straight-forward as this? I also read a study: “Debating the Value of Tweets for Disaster Response” and I would like to venture again that there is a limited value of tweeting in any emergency – responsibly and appropriately. This relates to news and information (even verifying facts for emergency services), but not to any immediate, and direct assistance. In the case of the Thailand disaster tweets, it was found that almost 40% was ‘situational announcement’ and only 8% called for assistance.

Thailand Tweet Graphic

In the case of an emergency, there may not be a need for sharing information on the situation (unless it is to cause sensation or ‘be first to report it via ‘socal media’! which are both unacceptable). However, there is still value in sending a tweet out as an eye witness. Even more importantly, social media analyst John Hermann makes a key point about the value of Twitter in moments of crisis or disaster, which could apply to emergencies as well:

“Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace,” Herrman wrote. “To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: That we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity. Yes, Twitter is used to spread misinformation, and it’s also a powerful fact checking network. Any tool or network that can spread information will spread both good and bad information. This is because humans offer an abundance of both, especially during fast-moving breaking news events.

So, was it shameful of people to tweet when someone tragically lost their life at our beautiful Lion’s Head yesterday? Possibly. If no one cared to help at all, definitely. Our thoughts are with the hiker’s children and other family members and friends who lost his life. It is such a sad way to start the year.

But let’s not forget: Each context is different and nothing beats healthy judgement. Twitter remains a powerful tool to communicate. If we guard against sensationalism, we can use it to connect with our networks to express opinions, and yes – also shock. And maybe we should not be so harsh when people are human….

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