In the wake of the Charleston massacre, Bergis Jules and Ed Summers collected tweets about the shooting and analyzed how social media users described events. Labeling it an act of terrorism, as we know, took time. More than it should have. Jules and Summers work also revealed that relabeling the shooting as an act of terror occurred in large part because of agitation and curation by organizers and observers online. Mainstream media sites also adjusted their descriptions of events as details poured in, adding information (including racial descriptors) sometimes within hours of posting.
Jules wrote about what they learned from the archive they created in an analysis that speaks to social justice activism online, digital black studies, digital humanities, and operationalizing radical media:
In an attempt to capture some of the reactions and answer some of these questions, Ed Summers and I started collecting tweets tagged with #Charleston and #CharlestonShooting. We’re both interested in archiving social media and the potential for it to add a rich new layer to the work we do as archivists. After some very early analysis we wanted to share just some of what we are finding in the tweets. There are some important issues to consider for archivists as we continue to think about building collections and documenting historical events in this space.
As of 12PM ET on June 19th we had collected 2,075,608 tweets mentioning #CharlestonShooting since 9PM ET on June 17th. Here is a graph of tweets per hour so you get a sense of just how rapidly folks were sharing information about this event. Just nineteen minutes after the police responded to calls reporting the shooting we see the first #CharlestonShooting tweet….
…Ed wrote a program to search through the tweets in chronological order to find the first one that pointed to a Web page that mentioned the word “terror” in it. It found this tweet from 10:43PM ET (just over an hour after the police were called in) which points at a Reuters story on Yahoo News byHarriet McLeod, a journalist based in Charleston, South Carolina…
Bergis goes on to describe how articles on the shooting changed tone and tenor within hours of the event, and in apparent conjunction with Twitter discussion around terms like “terror.”
So exploring how this narrative of domestic terrorism emerged in social media and on the Web turns out to be kind of tricky. This use case represents a challenge for the archival community to build robust, high fidelity and (most importantly) timely Web archives for study. We’re hopeful small experiments like this Medium post will help inform the work we are planning to do on a tool that allows archivists and scholars to tune into social media events (like I did that night) and collect selected Web content. If we don’t do it who will?
Read the full essay at Medium: Bergis Jules, The Narrative of Terrorism in #Charleston — On Archivy — Medium.