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How one simple tweet made my phone explode with messages

By Paul Connolly

Published 09/10/2015

Trolling victims: the McCanns
Trolling victims: the McCanns

Sometimes the world of social media is quite bizarre. It can be a force for immense good, whilst simultaneously also existing as a complete dustbin of dross.

Facebook, for example, has become the world's greatest friend/cousin/family content sharing tool. It is also, as you'll sometimes see from the Facebook feed of the Belfast Telegraph and all the other media outlets, the realm of some nasty little trolls.

For some reason, there's less obvious bile on the Tele's Twitter feed and it's often the setting for very intelligent debate.

But that's not everyone's experience. Some people get abused on Twitter, and find they are treated much better on Facebook.

In some respects, there appears little logic as to what way the social media cookie crumbles.

Last week the parents of Madeleine McCann shut down the official Find Madeleine Twitter account, saying they could take no more of the torrent of personal abuse. From now on they will restrict the social media campaign to Facebook.

The organiser of the Official Find Madeleine Campaign Facebook page said in a statement that it was time "to remove ourselves from a place that allows so much toxic content to be directed at us...

"I have been dismayed, however, at some of the hatred and sheer viciousness directed at Kate and Gerry through our social media accounts for no logical reason at all.

"At times, it has had me in tears. It is hard to accept that some people can be so cruel to a family that has already experienced the worst pain imaginable."

So that's the toxic side to social media. Then there's the positive, which I experienced the other day myself.

Wearing another hat, you see, I am a motoring writer. When the VW scandal broke I tweeted that people didn't realise how serious the matter was because it meant that VW had secretly pumped out a million tonnes of excess air pollution annually - "roughly the same as the UK's combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture".

Yes, equivalent to the entire UK's output of noxious gases secretly emitted by a car company.

The info was buried near the bottom of a Guardian report but I attached it as a photo file, credited the Guardian, tweeted it and went to bed.

I was woken at 6am by my phone blowing up - people around the world were retweeting and favouriting my tweet and Twitter was slavishly notifying me every time someone did.

So far that tweet has been retweeted 3,488 times and favourited 1,479 times.

That might not sound impressive to non-Twitter users so to put it into context I checked back three months of the comedian/personality Stephen Fry's Twitter account. Fry has 11 million followers to my 800 and he never managed more than 2,000 retweets at one go.

What's more, the next day the Guardian rewrote the story to that angle and made it the second lead on their homepage. (I'd imagine their data tools picked up the popularity of my tweet.)

Newsnight picked it up too, hanging a special graphic around it. Double result!

I guess if it's a funny old world, it's hardly surprising that it's a funny old social media world too.

Belfast Telegraph

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