Social Support in Hard times on Twitter

by A-Badgero

Twitter users reported the death of Whitney Houston 27 minutes before it was reported by mainstream media.

Social networking sites have given internet users the ability to publicly express their thoughts and feelings, to announce new events and incidents occurring in their lives and all with a few clacks of your keys and a click of your mouse. The most well known social media sites are Facebook and Twitter. Twitter (for those who are unaware) is an online social networking and microblogging service where you can send and read short text-based messages of no more than 140 characters. Much of the subject matter on Twitter is meant to be amusing, usually clever word puns and jokes however, because of the open range for expression, users can post some powerful messages.

Twitter users tweet about everything and anything but one subject that has gained popularity, that many did not expect to be such a hot topic, is death. Users have begun to talk about their fears of death, mourn those they lost, and even offer condolences and memorialization. When someone close to you dies, you are now able to notify an entire network of people with one tweet. Now, of course, anyone who loses someone close to them, like a family member, deserves to be notified in person (you wouldn’t want to find out about grandma’s passing from a tweet).

If you are not one to watch televised news broadcasts it is more likely that you heard of the death of Steve Jobs or any other famous person through Twitter. These days countless people get their news from the internet, especially the younger generations. There is often a sense of urgency with Twitter, everything must be quick and to the point so as not to lose the interest of a group of users who have short attention spans.

Heather Spohr is an avid blogger and frequent twitter user. When her 17 month old daughter Maddie was experiencing respiratory problems she was able to tweet details of her experience in real time. The day Maddie passed, Heather tweeted about her loss and immediately her followers and friends mobilized a movement. The hash tag #Maddie was the #1 streamed topic for several days and as the message of Maddie was spread, there was an outpouring of support and many of the tweets urged users to donate to Spohr’s March of Dimes efforts. “I remember thinking after she passed that no one would ever really know or care about my daughter, I just couldn’t bare the idea of her not being remembered,” said Spohr, “now I know she will be.”

Community is a basic human need and Twitter offers an online community where people can feel a real connection with one another. You may not even personally know everyone who follows you but when you post about something traumatic that happened to you and a flood of people respond and offer sympathy and support you still feel the contentment of having a community behind you. Short meaningful messages can offer just as much support as verbal comments. Twitter has given its users the ability to maintain a large number of exceptionally meaningful connections.


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