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 “Oscar Pistorius shoots his friend dead in his house because he thought she was a burglar”

Social Media has so quickly become part of modern daily life but given how rapidly technology evolves the truth is that while much of social is now “business as usual” in reality we are constantly learning the ropes while live tweeting to the world.

Almost daily there are scandals being reported: Burger King’s Twitter account was hacked and made to look like McDonalds, an inappropriate tweet by a newsroom anchor or celebrity, someone fired because of their statements about work on Facebook.

But in the face of a terrible tragedy the last 7 days has truly shown us how powerful these platforms have become and why they have become an inseparable part of our lives. Love it, hate it, right or wrong our lives are changed by it.

The tragedy to which I refer of course is the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius. Die Beeld chose to break the story on Twitter on the morning of the 14th of February, even before they had posted a story on their website. This alone is a seismic shift in traditional media. A major, global story being broken in less than 140 characters.

After the story went viral just a few minutes later the dark shadow of the twitterverse showed itself with scathing tweets about the state of South Africa’s crime situation (since it was reported that Oscar mistook Reeva for a burglar). As doubt was cast on that version of events tweets turned to instant judgement and condemnation of Oscar himself.  Worse the jokes were circulating by that very afternoon and a fake Nando’s ad was spreading virally. South Africans, hurt and confused by yet another fallen hero, vented and ranted. Much of it was ugly. And so it went for the next 4 days.

On Tuesday the 19th at around 10am Oscar’s bail hearing began and Twitter took centre stage, revealing itself as the powerful medium it has become. It was the social eras version of the OJ trial. But we weren’t glued to TV. An appeal was made by media to be allowed to televise proceedings. This, predictably, was denied. Over the next few hours the world would discover that this no longer matters. People from around the world were glued to Twitter as live tweets streamed directly from the court room. It felt like we were in the room. Every question, answer, gasps from the gallery. By the end of the first day most opinion and commentary proclaimed Oscar’s guilt. Everyone was an investigator, a lawyer pointing out inconsistencies. By the end of day two those convictions were wavering as the defense took the opportunity to tear into the prosecutions case. But we didn’t have to read a long analysis the next day in print.

As just one example of the intense interest, Barry Bateman (@BarryBateman) a reporter for Eye Witness News live tweeting from the courtroom, saw his twitter following rise from 10,000 to over 60,000. It was riveting. Of course there was just as much senseless commentary by senseless people but once you figured out who to follow, it was amazing.

For better or for worse, this is how we will forever expect to follow important stories: We want to be there, right now as it is happening. We want to discuss it with others, right now as it happening. We want to interact directly with those who are there, as it is happening. Lastly, we want it WHERE we are, wherever that may be. This story was followed by people on planes, trains, board rooms, conferences, on the toilet, during meetings, at coffee shops, while shopping. Wherever people were they were following the story on Twitter.

It is in the last two days that Twitter has shined and showed why it is the new broadcast medium.

However, with everything I have said it should not be forgotten that at the centre and foundation of this is a tragedy that has left at least two families forever shattered and the innocent Reeva  Steenkamp dead. Let’s also not forget the national loss of an inspirational hero who could have done so much more for our nation had things happened differently.