As Ferguson protests spread, Twitter takes on a different tenor

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Most of the time, social media users can rely on Twitter for a few things: jokes, tweets from brands, and updates from celebrities.

Every once in a while, however, Twitter becomes something else, and anything but serious discussion of the topic of the moment is retweeted and criticized for being out of touch and too flippant.

That was the case Monday night, as emotions ran high after St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch announced that Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

Well before McCullough’s remarks were over—news outlets reported that Wilson would not be indicted several minutes before the prosecutor announced the decision—protests began in Ferguson and throughout the country. Twitter lit up with photos of those demonstrations, along with commentary about the decision.

“#Ferguson,” “Darren Wilson,” and “grand jury” were the top trending topics Monday night, and remained so Tuesday morning. For proof that the tone of Twitter changed, the comedy news website The Interrobang gathered a collection of markedly serious tweets from comedians about the decision.

Frivolous tweets or those that weren’t about what was happening in Ferguson—many of them from brands that probably had automated updates scheduled—were met with a common response: “Not now.”

There’s this one from Kohl’s, which was still up Tuesday morning:

Or this one from the Boston Red Sox, which was deleted:

Singer Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas earned some attention for a tweet that said he was having “the best night ever in a long time.”

He apologized:

Another example, involving a marketing firm, dealt with a tweet specifically referring to Ferguson:

NPR blogger Linda Holmes offered this advice to anyone who runs an organizational Twitter account:

It’s worth remembering next time news as big and as emotionally charged as Monday’s becomes the talk of Twitter. The messages you had planned can wait, and if you do choose to tweet, make sure you’re fully aware of what you’re saying.

 

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