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Tweeting through an Emergency

“All emotion is pleasurable.” — Craig Raine (as said to A. D. Nuttall)

After the bombings in Boston last week, here’s what I saw on Twitter:

  1. Solemn warnings not to retweet speculative, sensationalistic tweets from others
  2. Frantic retweeting of speculative, sensationalistic tweets from others
  3. Solemn retweeting of heroic-courage-in-the-face-of-tragedy human-interest stories
  4. These Tragic Events Just Prove My Politics

For further reflection, see this post by Simon Ricketts.

I hated the whole damned thing and stayed away from Twitter for a day or so following the bombings. But as I did, I had a chance to calm down and realize that for many people Twitter was a way to connect with others in a time of emotional stress. So bless them for that; to those who found such connections, I say good for them. But I do believe that for many people social media serve to leverage emotion — to intensify and extend powerful feelings — which can be unhealthy. People rarely think rationally and fairly when emotionally agitated, and when agitated people connect with each other it’s very easy for them to generate a feedback loop of anger or outrage or fear.

about the author

Alan Jacobs is a Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, and the author most recently of The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography.

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