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Tragic Beheading Of Palmira Silva Chronicled Live On Twitter

Twitter Reaction Featured Prominently In Newspaper Reports

The time may one day return where social media is not seen rearing its head at the forefront of a breaking tragedy. That day, however, is not today, as news of a murder in north London has come to light – with mobile phone photos and tweets from witnesses and neighbours taking high priority in some news outlets’ reporting.

Yesterday, a woman was found tragically murdered and beheaded by what one local Twitter user described as a “madman on the loose with a machete.” The victim, 82-years-old, has been identified as Palmira Silva.

Eye-witness accounts were pouring into Twitter before the traditional media even had a sniff of the story which seems sure to dominate the news over the next few days.

Yesterday, the website of local newspaper the London Evening Standard ran with a picture of the police at the scene of the crime. Nothing surprising there, apart from the fact that the picture - taken with a camera phone - had been tweeted earlier by user @Redbutred. The paper’s decision to lead with a photograph captured ‘in the moment’ raises questions about the way in which we now consume our media as a whole - and how the social media we love is nudging poor old newspaper outlets into a rapid change of direction.

While the notion of waiting until tomorrow to find out what’s been happening today is dated enough to be considered quaint (imagine a world without 24 hour rolling news, or even Google…), we seem to be becoming more and more obsessed with the idea that absolutely everything going on in the world is happening right there on our computer monitors. Twitter and Facebook allow us this sense of interaction; newspapers do not.

That would go some way to explain social networks’ identity as “the new homepage”, as suggested by one writer. Nowadays, we are more likely to hit Twitter when these stories are breaking than we are to check, say, our local news website.

But why would a local paper choose to use a blurry phone snap as its lead photo for a breaking story? Especially when, as seen later on in the article, there were plenty of HD photographs to choose from. Perhaps the reason for this is that smaller news outlets are consciously choosing to act as middle-men; the paper structure which bridges the gap between today’s gruesome murder and tomorrow’s non-Twitter user.
Could this also suggest that social media now has an indirect effect on those who go out of their way to avoid it? ING seem to think so, as they claim that “journalists widely use social media posts despite having doubts about their reliability”. Even if you avoid Twitter at all costs, it influences the mainstream media which you do consume.

This is clear evidence that social media is hugely affecting journalism as a whole – something apparent in the London Evening Standard’s report, which features reaction from Twitter, as well as the photograph I've discussed.

Tragedies such as the killing of Palmira Silva are now reported with an ever-increasing sense of immediacy and detail. And whether you see this as progressive or repulsive, important or abhorrent, one thing is for sure: the influence of social media on our traditional media is growing by the day.


Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Tragic Beheading Of Palmira Silva Chronicled Live On Twitter Reviewed by Emile Cole on Friday, September 05, 2014 Rating: 5
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