But social networks like Twitter highlight tensions in the moment rather than calm them, with tweets and photos detailing the scene as things unfold in real time. Social media has captured public violence and the detainment of two Washington journalists last week, and tweets, Instagram photos and Vine videos broadcast images of looting and police aggression to the world. Mini dispatches from those near skirmishes involving protesters and police have played a critical role in shaping the news: The #Ferguson hashtag has been tweeted almost 8 million times this month, according to figures from Topsy, a Twitter analytics service.
The decentralized, free-for-all platforms and an already chaotic situation have fused to create an environment that spotlights startling developments over measured action or solutions, experts note.
It’s the digital incarnate of the old news adage: If it bleeds it leads.
“I think it just goes back to the fact that Twitter is a giant echo chamber,” said Nikki Usher, a George Washington University assistant professor that studies social media, adding, “It’s an excellent forum for spreading misinformation and spreading exaggeration and fueling passion, and I think that tends to be a real negative consequence of being on the social media platform.”