Coffee House

Eight Golden Rules for Tragedy Tweeting

24 May 2013

5:47 PM

24 May 2013

5:47 PM

We’ve had a lot of horrible news this week, and inevitably that means a lot of tragedy tweeting. You know the sort of thing: a terror attack or a natural disaster happens, and everybody hops on the internet to share their reactions and emote ad nauseam. There’s not much point railing against this. Twitter is here to stay. But please — just so we don’t all go mad — can we lay down some basic DO NOT rules for tweeting in the wake of an appalling major news story? Below are the first eight that spring to mind, but please do add more…

1. Do not take to Twitter to say: ‘There aren’t words … Just pray4victims’. If you don’t have words to say, then shut up. If you want to pray, just pray. Don’t bloody well tell everyone else to. It’s obnoxious.

2. Equally, do not Tweet ‘It’s too soon to voice opinion on this tragedy’ – that’s fatuous, especially if you then try to voice an opinion on this tragedy.


3. Never EVER tweet exactly what you are seeing on a TV news channel with the words ‘BREAKING’. It’s moronic. Also, don’t spell it BREKAING just to convey the great urgency of your revelation.

4. Do not use Twitter to try to connect yourself to tragic events that have nothing to do with you, in the hope that someone will share your pain . Having an aunt who lives near Woolwich does not mean you are a victim. Having once drunk in a bar in Boston does not mean you are part of the city.

5. Do not tweet the words ‘WE ARE ALL [INSERT NAME OF SUFFERING GROUP] NOW’ – or make any other declaration of weird solidarity with the victims. It’s their tragedy not yours.

6. Do not search for a long and meaningful piece that is vaguely linked to the disaster and post a link to it saying ‘SEMINAL PIECE’ or ‘MUST READ’.

7. Do not make any grandiose statements along the lines of ‘Together we are STRONGER’ or ‘WE STAND UNITED’. It might make you feel better, but you just sound like a tit.

8. Do not ‘retweet’ any of the above offences. It makes you look even more preposterous.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • allymax bruce

    Twatter, is absolutely a Political Imposition Social Medium. Media Mentoring at its worse. Avoid Twatter at all costs!

  • Shoe On Head

    H3y Fr3ddy wUt r yhu dooinq?*

    *apart from the dictionary you’re about to throw at my face…

  • Iain Hill

    Excellent, and summarises just why I abandoned twitter.

  • Augustus

    Here in England, arresting you for disapproving of murder, for making some adverse comment about Islamic terrorism on Facebook or Twitter, is what passes for law and order. Arresting those who haven’t beheaded anyone, but who have expressed their outrage at those who do, because it’s an ‘offence of malicious communications’, is apparently far more important to the forces of law and order than tackling murderers parading up and down a street, soaked in blood, while the body of a half-beheaded soldier lies there for the best part of half an hour waiting for an ‘armed response’ to arrive. Unbelievable!

  • JustAnOtherRandomGit

    Twitter can be useful, though … a look through my feed the other day told me in 3048 different ways how evil the EDL are … and that’s it. No mention of anything else. Did something else happen that day?

  • Q46

    Twitter is ‘here to stay’ only for those who bother with it. For normal folk it does not exist.

  • James Strong

    Q How many tweets make a tw@t?
    A. One.
    I am middle-aged; I don’t tweet, and I know that I am not, like, way cool, but I cannot understand why anyone would want to tweet or read anyone else’s tweets.

    • Studley

      I can name two reasons. 1) Because you’re William Shatner with tour dates and your fans want to know the wheres and whens. 2) Because, as in my case, you’re trying to sell something and your techie friend says you need to ‘get connected’. It’s the only reason I bothered. And it wasn’t worth the bother. All one does is connect with other people that are trying to sell to YOU. What a comedy!

      • NedMissingTeeth


        • Studley

          Is that your best method for getting attention?

          I personally look for intelligent insight in blog comment sections….

  • Freebornbriton

    What’s “Twitter”?

    • salieri

      I’m not qualified to say, either, but it appears to be a fashionable medium through which inadequate people share banal thoughts with lots of other morons.

    • Nicholas chuzzlewit

      A village with a billion idiots.

      • allymax bruce

        You obviously nerd to Disconnect yourself, from Twatter.

  • KWC1957

    Rule 9 – Don’t ever think your Tw@tter comment will ever make a difference – It doesn’t.

  • Theodoxia

    There is clearly a correlation between the amount of a person’s Twitter activity and manifest folly, but which is the cause and which the effect?

  • starfish

    9. Don’t tell other people what to say even if you believe you have an olympian ability to get to the nub of an issue by asking such penetrating journo questions such as ‘what happened’ and ‘how do you feel’. Am I alone in finding this piece incredibly condescending? Not for the little people to comment eh?

  • Studley

    I cannot understand why my perfectly reasonable comment was spiked. How about a little freedom of speech?

    Honestly: is ‘seminal’ a favourite word of the moderator? What does the moderator think ‘seminal’ means? And does the moderator think that ‘seminal’ is inherently nicer than ‘placental’, ‘menstrual’, or for that matter, ‘mucosal’?

    I’m asking as a grown-up interested in language and its meaning. Personally, I find ‘seminal’ less than tasteful as a way of describing something. For that I am censored?!

    • the viceroy’s gin

      I doubt those using it understand what it means, or was meant to mean. They just bleat it out as another way to say “this is waaaaaay kooooooool, dood”.

      But if you go back you’ll find expressions such as “…sprang from the loins of…” in reference to ideas or philosophies or what have you, an analogy using biological function overlaid onto intellectual activity.

      It might be considered gross and indecent, I don’t know, but it could also be a useful identifier for original thinking (although I doubt the waaaaay kooool tweeters are using it for that).

    • Colonel Mustard

      Personally and when used correctly I think it describes an original treatise in the context of its impact on subsequent thinking in a better way than any of its supposed synonyms.

    • salieri

      Bizarre moderation, I agree: my reply was spiked too so I’ll try again using silly asterisks:
      There’s absolutely nothing gross or indecent about the word. Find a decent Latin dictionary and you’ll find that the noun from which the adjective derives meant that which is sown or planted. Does anyone find the phrase ‘seeds of discord’ offensive? Of course not, and it comes straight from Tacitus: ‘s***ina discordiae’. Nor, I think, has the Church ever had any difficulty with the end of the Magnificat: ‘quam olim Abrahae promisisti, et s***ini eius.’ (As Thou promised to Abraham and his seed for ever).

      For further enlightenment see the Colonel below.

      Footnote: watching the Beeb’s much-trailed doc on Anne Boleyn, it was
      interesting to note that the Priest had two sentences to say in Latin, and he
      got them both horribly wrong. O tempora, o mores.

      • Studley

        OK, fair enough. But I consider myself a fairly well educated person (among other things, a smattering of Greek if only a soupçon of Latin), and tulip bulbs, sesame seeds, and their like, are not at all what ‘seminal’ suggests to me. Time to retire the word?

        P. S. Here’s a question: Given that pre-scientific peoples were ignorant — often entirely ignorant — of physiological processes, how did they decide that the man’s contribution was ‘seed’? How did they know that the female of the species wasn’t the one with the seed? In that case, the man would simply be watering it!

        • salieri

          Depends what you mean by ‘pre-scientific’, I suppose. Even the Egyptians understood biological reproduction but I’m not a scientist or anthropologist so not qualified to answer your question. We could have asked the Colonel but the poor chap seems to have offended the infernal moderating machinery (goodness knows how): it has now entirely removed the moderated post which noted the removal of his previous unmoderated post which answered your first question helpfully and pertinently.

          • Studley

            Ah. I did wonder where this Colonel was that you mentioned. Usually The Spec is pretty good about not interfering.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Or don’t see the Colonel below because his comment has inexplicably been deleted. I have no idea why my simple observation about the value of this word would cause any offence to anyone.

      • telemachus

        Telemachus, the ultimate repository of reasonableness salieri is used to such audacious treatment

  • Studley


  • Span Ows

    BY the way, who really believes ‘Not in our name’ – British Muslims denounce the Woolwich attack on Twitter” is the most popular read? (right hand sidebar)

    • Daniel Maris

      LOL Well spotted Span.

  • Span Ows

    “Don’t bloody well tell everyone else to. It’s obnoxious.

    Eh? This is what Twitter is, in its entirely, not just in tragedies: obnoxious self obsessed twits.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Well if you really don’t want to seem preposterous then don’t use Twitter at all.

    Cameron’s most astute question ever was:

    How many tweets make a tw@t?

    PS Will today’s court decision make Silly Bercow bankrupt?

    • Airey Belvoir

      I did read that she had taken out insurance. Not sure how that works though.

      • salieri

        Insurance against legal costs – doesn’t help her with the damages (innocent face).

    • David Lindsay

      It could never have been Lord McAlpine, you silly Sally.

      It was a Cabinet Minister, which he never was. And it was someone so famous as to be identifiable even by institutionalised children, which he certainly never was.

      We have always known who it obviously was not, a list to which almost the entire population of the world could be added.

      But who was it?

      Or has the Prime Minister of the day, who must have known, taken that secret to the grave?

      • Nicholas chuzzlewit

        “who must have known” and no doubt you have incontrovertible evidence supporting this assertion which implies that a Prime Minister new of acts of paedophilia but chose to ignore them or cover them up. I suspect that you do not. No, this is just another cowardly and disgusting slur made safely in the knowledge that the dead cannot be libelled. Pathetic.

  • British Appeasement of Islam

    The war will last generations.

  • dalai guevara

    Whappen 2 Booyakashadude – did the feds take him out?

  • telemachus

    Refrain from swimming in the face of the majority, you will be moderated

    • Noa

      Then refrain from promulgating adulatory Stalinist balls, unless posting for the Grauniad’s brainless latte imbibers.
      Better writers and thinkers than you can no longer post here

      • rollahardsix

        I rather like the phrase ”adulatory Stalinist balls”, it has quite a ring to it and most likely those three words have never been put in that order together before! Quite appropriate too, given that Tele previously told us that Stalin’s USSR was the model of a well run country with a happy, grateful population…

        • telemachus

          Only that contrary to my expectations Moscow youth laud his role in leading them to victory in The Great Patriotic War

      • salieri

        Splendid! But in all honesty, while it was refreshing to find Teletubby’s comments disappear en masse over the last two days, I cannot for the life of me see what he had said that was remotely offensive to anyone. Freedom of speech and all that…

        • Noa

          Agreed, I was objecting to the content of his posts, not his right to do so.

        • James Strong

          I thought that some of Teletubby’s posts were so irrational as to be, from a layman’s viewpoint, bordering on insane.
          I didn’t find them offensive, but even if they were it is a free country and we have the right to be offended. Or, better put, there is no right not to be offended.
          Very few visitors to this site are precious big girl’s blouses types who might scream’ Stop the nasty man, I’m offended’. I would like those types out there in the rest of the UK, and the government too, to stop fussing about being offended.

          • salieri

            Hear hear. Well said. But even when comes to insanity, you know, it’s all in the mind.

  • hookslaw

    Rule 9 is actually don’t post articles on how to comment on tragedies. I rather think it trivialises tragedies.

    But a suppose one man’s tragedy is another reporter’s meant and drink

    • Archimedes

      What are you talking about? This is an awesome article.

      • hookslaw

        yes – silly of me…
        *innocent face*

  • Tim Reed

    9. Don’t even think about commenting on any news website article relating directly to politically awkward events, because cowardly journalists will have already removed that possibility.

    • thucydides

      There are the reputations of the websites to defend.
      Better to shut down comment than be shutdown.

      • Emulous

        Better to shut up.

  • Simon Semere

    And the final rule, don’t tweet what you’re thinking, it’s probably for the best.