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Woman Twitters While Robbing Bank (FUD and the media)

Last Wednesday, my friend Anna (editor of Frill Seeker Diary) stopped off at the bank on way to work. Like most of us, she didn’t pay attention to what the person at the window was doing while waiting for her turn, but the difference this day is that the man in front of the teller wasn’t just making a withdrawal; he was robbing the bank. Once the thief left the bank with $500, it was locked down, and Anna became aware of what happened.

Anna happened to be having problems with her phone that day, so she decided to let her friends, family and employer know she was ok via Twitter. As she continued to do running commentary for her Twitter followers, it got noticed by Gothamist, which led to it getting picked up by Consumerist, which led to it getting picked up by Gawker, which led to the regular media slowly picking it up during the day.

I had the opportunity to talk to Anna over the course of the day to hear how things were unfolding for her. She was receiving regular email and phone calls from different media outlets all day long, but as she was considering what to do, the story was spiraling out of control. The different websites and news networks were all telling stories based off her initial tweets and feeding off of each other. Unfortunately, the headlines all read “Women Twitters During Bank Robbery,” which didn’t happen, and most people read the headlines without reading the stories.

Anna ultimately submitted to an interview with the AP via email, but it seemed like it was not enough to stem the tide of misinformation. Most of the commentary online were based on the misleading headlines and led to Anna receiving a lot of negative comments via Twitter and blogs covering the story because the readers would only read the headlines and form their opinions based on that or just use Anna as a conduit for the commenter to release their disdain for Twitter. For a full twenty-four hours, she was hounded by the media, and all she wanted was for it all to go away.

As quickly as it all started, the media storm subsided. The television reporters stopped calling for her to make an appearance, the bloggers stopped emailing, the reporters stopped camping out on her lawn, and it was over for her. Unfortunately, the story continued to live on as more articles and twitter links went out for another day or two about this story, but instead of doing research, interviews and reporting, the articles and blogs regurgitated what the person writing the article read on other websites and quoting Anna from the AP article.

A cycle of sensational reporting, lazy media consumption, and regurgitation without facts upturned her life for a day, in an instance one publicist told her she’d “been doing this for 20 yrs and never seen a story take off like that.” Was the story all that compelling and news worthy? The story was never about the bank robbery, but the fact that Anna sent out a tweet saying that she had been there during one. Would the bank robbery ever been reported if Anna had just made a phone call or sent a text message? Is it really news that Anna just wanted to let people know she was okay?

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