COLUMBIA — During what some believed to be a hostage situation in Jefferson City on Tuesday, people across the state reported and discussed the incident on social media.
Most notably, news organizations and many private citizens were using Twitter to find and share information about the situation at the Governor Office Building.
In the 140 characters of text allowed in a tweet, the message shared on the Web site, people communicated the news and rumors they heard. This included a number of retweets, where a person reposts a tweet that they have already seen and credits the original author.
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., there were 310 tweets that included #JCMOhostage, the most common indicator used on Twitter to talk about the situation, which turned out to not include a hostage.
Here are some perspectives on the use of Twitter during the incident and what effect it had on the event:
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder was one of the first people to tweet about the incident, which he said he could see parts of out of his office window in the capital building.
Kinder's friend, whose husband is a hostage negotiator for the Capitol Police, told him of the possible situation. He also learned that sharpshooters were deployed near the building, which he referenced in his first tweet about the incident.
He said he decided to tweet about it because he thought it was “important to notify the world.”
“This was obviously a public event,” Kinder said. “And being Twitter, it seemed appropriate.”
KOMU New Media Director Jen Reeves said Twitter was a good tool for the KOMU staff to use and that the station made sure its information was accurate.
She said the station first heard of the incident when a reporter saw a blockade in Jefferson City. The station called the Jefferson City Police Department and searched Twitter, where they saw posts about a standoff.
“We put nothing on (Twitter) until we confirmed it, but I had an inkling of what was going on from what other people were saying on Twitter,” Reeves said.
While covering the event, Reeves said KOMU retweeted its reporters when they found news and also retweeted Kinder.
Reeves said she doesn’t think the use of Twitter seriously affected the situation and how it was covered and that the station would have reacted the same way on-air even if they weren’t using Twitter.
“Social media or no social media, it was a heck of a situation,” she said.
Columbia Missourian news and opinion editor Jake Sherlock said the newspaper focused on making sure it didn’t post anything unverified in its coverage.
“We want to tweet stuff that we know to be true,” Sherlock said. “So that’s why you didn’t see us Tweeting that there were shots fired because we never had confirmation that there were shots fired.”
Besides reporters in Jefferson City, he said the paper retweeted accounts it trusted to be accurate, such as other news organizations.
He said the Missourian also trusted Kinder’s posts because it knew the lieutenant governor controls the account and that he was in the right place to be an eyewitness to what was happening.
Sherlock said he thinks the use of Twitter had an impact on how large the situation in Jefferson City became because it would only have been passed by word of mouth without social media.
“Twitter takes word of mouth and multiplies it by a factor of a million,” he said. “Without Twitter, that would have only been Jefferson City buzz, and we’d have gotten a short press release.”
Political commentator Marcus Bowen
Marcus Bowen, a political commentator and MU law student who tweeted about the incident, said he used Twitter as a “people’s press” that allowed him to share information he thought was newsworthy.
He said he gathered his information primarily from Twitter and would post it himself after he’d seen it from several people he followed in Jefferson City.
Bowen said his tweets had a different burden of proof than those of news organizations.
“While I’m not going to disseminate what I truly believe to be wrong, I am going to disseminate what I truly believe to be right at the time I hear it,” he said.
Bowen said the advantage of not having the same burden is that he can often post faster than news organizations, because they are serving a different purpose.
“You can hear it from me 10 minutes after it happened or you can hear it from the AP 50 minutes after it happens, when they’ve had time to verify it,” he said.
— Missourian reporter Rebecca Berg contributed to this report