Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
September 18, 2013

Times Square Tweet Carnage: Where We (and Twitter) Are Now

A little over a year ago, I wrote about pictures of the Empire State Building shooting that were posted to Instagram. My take at the time (“Instagram and Murder”) was that the making and posting of those photos were largely a personal and unselfconscious process motivated by the instinct to make something surreal feel more real.

In the time between the Empire State shooting and this incident with a crazy man and the slipshod police shooting of bystanders last Saturday night, certainly Twitter and Instagram have evolved in their cultural roles — and certainly not in the direction of innocence. Today, Twitter is a much more commercial, more exhibitionistic, more promotional and attention-seeking vehicle than it was before. It is much more of a gawking and tabloid territory, the happenstance procurement of a slice of trauma or celebrity functions as much or more like a trophy, the posting and engagement less an act of witnessing than voyeurism.

I’m not saying, by the way, that the citizen-photographer,” Ms. Nesbeth, wasn’t well intentioned, or her photos weren’t also seeking to witness and find sense. There are elements of this in her feed too.

What differentiates the Empire State and the Times Square shooting photos especially, however, is that both Mr_Mookie ((Muhammad Malik) and Ryan Styrin, who captured the former photos, were largely unaware of creating a piece of media or an artifact of cultural significance. When later interviewed, in fact, both expressed defiance over the suggestion of the images as a commodity.

What a far cry from Ms. Nesbeth’s first tweet:

Omg just witnessed NYPD gun down a pedestrian in Times Square @CNN

(photos: Kerri Ann Nesbeth ‏@knesbeth/Twitter – 14 September. caption 1: Omg just witnessed NYPD gun down a pedestrian in Times Square @CNN pic.twitter.com/AMCmFGrSZ4. caption 2: This cannot be happening in front of me @CNN pic.twitter.com/aREMVNp8F4)

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