Social media and grief

5 March 2011

Today is the three-year anniversary of UNC student body president Eve Carson‘s death, and Friday I asked readers on Twitter to share their memories of her or how she influenced them using the hashtag #EveToday. The response has been overwhelming, with an outpouring of Tweets all day long that is still continuing. I compiled the Tweets using Storify so that people could read through the dozens of messages at once. It struck me as I did so how much social media has changed the way we communicate even in the three years since she was killed.

In March 2008, I was still two months away from joining Twitter. I posted no updates about her death on Facebook, shared no links to any of the many stories I wrote about her death and only RSVP’d to a memorial service held a few weeks later. The Daily Tar Heel wasn’t on Twitter or Facebook either but let readers to submit messages to a Memorial Wall. In 2008 and in 2011 we tailored our approach to where our audience was, which is what we should be doing. Asking for #EveToday-style Tweets in 2008 would have yielded us few, if any responses. Our audience simply wasn’t on Twitter then, or even in 2009. Even last year I’m not sure if we would have gotten quite the reaction we did today. People are simply much more comfortable with social media and using it throughout their life.

I welcome this evolution. I remember feeling very cut-off from the rest of the UNC community when we all departed for Spring Break days after she was killed. There was no easy way for us to mourn together. Reading through the Tweets today was comforting, an instant reminder that out there, hundreds more felt just like me – saddened by her death and inspired by her life.

Using Twitter to increase safety awareness

3 March 2011

In the past week, an as-yet-unidentified man has been entering unlocked homes in Chapel Hill and stroking the legs of women while they sleep. This is of course unwelcome and jarring news, particularly for those in the quiet college town that surrounds UNC, where three years ago this week the student body president was kidnapped and brutally killed (her door was also unlocked). The Daily Tar Heel has been on the story since the first incident last Friday, and since then I’ve mulled how I could use our social media accounts to make students aware of the potential threat.

I wanted to raise awareness without being alarmist, preach safety tips without being smarmy (or reminding students of their parents) and reach as many people as possible. Wednesday, day 6, I started brainstorming hashtags with other editors. The incidents have reminded folks of Antoine Dodson and his infamous “hide your wife, hide your kids” interview. We somewhat seriously considered making reference to that, in part to build off of what students were already tweeting and in part because we felt the viral video’s fame could help grab students’ attention to this issue. At the same time, we didn’t want to make light of the very real threat the victims had faced. We settled on #lockthedoor, snappy yet relevant, given that the intruder entered through unlocked doors each time. I’ve curated Tweets using Storify to show how I used the account throughout the day:

I typically use the @dailytarheel account to share links and respond to individuals. Rarely is it used to Tweet frequently on a single topic in a single day, but I decided this issue was important enough to dominate the feed for most of the day. But because of that, I tried to take a joke, hoping students would appreciate it and perhaps tuck away some of the useful advice as well. Any complaints about the hashtag so far are about equal to the amount of complaints we might generally get about anything. I’m not too worried that we’re offending followers, but it’s something I’ll be watching.

The intruder is still at-large, but I like to think that this campaign helped raise awareness at least a little bit today. From our analytics I know Twitter was a top referrer to our stories online, and the hashtag was trending in Chapel Hill at one point. I plan to continue with it until they catch someone, or until the incidents stop. Ideally, we’ll hear good news soon. What do you think? I would love to hear suggestions for ways we could make this reach and resonate with more students.