Belfast Telegraph

From a dying mum's bedside, the posts that show why we still need Twitter

By Jane Graham

It was the best of sites, it was the worst of sites. It hasn't been a great week for Twitter. Oscar Wilde's observation that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about might ring especially true for a forum which depends on perpetual conversation. But I'd guess Twitter execs would have been happier to have failed to make a single headline this week than deal with the Twitstorm which collected above their collective talking heads.

First, journalist Caroline Criado-Perez made public the rape and death threats on Twitter which flooded in after she successfully campaigned to get a woman – the bank of England went for Jane Austen – on the new tenner. She said Twitter's response to the abuse was pathetically inadequate.

Two female MPs backing Criado-Perez revealed they too had been subject to a barrowful of abusive tweets, and called for Twitter to take action.

Two men were arrested under suspicion for harassment.

Seventy thousand tweeters signed a petition for Twitter to install an instant abuse-reporting button. A suggestion for a 24-hour Twitter boycott attracted a crowd.

Twitter, most of the British media agreed, was a bad boy.

Meanwhile, a man in America wrote a series of tweets so moving, so insightful, honest and thought-provoking that you began to wonder if Twitter could be the single best thing to happen to the internet since it won Obama the 2008 election.

My gut reaction when I read about broadcaster Scott Simon tweeting from the bedside of his dying mother in a Chicago hospital was that it sounded a bit crass. His mother had literally days, maybe hours to live. Why would he want to share their last moments together with a million strangers? Wasn't that an invasion of her privacy, and of their intimacy?

Then I read Simon's missives and changed my mind in a heartbeat. What he was doing was chronicling a surge of love for his mother which would make any parent weep with relief and gratitude. As each passing thought and feeling fled through him – the soothing properties of great music, his mother's kindness to hospital staff, his desperation to bear her pain for her – he caught it and wrote it down so that it couldn't be forgotten.

He was painting a picture of his mother – her love of poetry, her generous interest in the people around her, the smart Woody Allen-esque one-liners with which she was batting off her fate (she told him her ideal obit headline: 'Three Jewish husbands. But no guilt'), reminding us that even in the face of a non-negotiable end, we remain essentially ourselves in humour, attitude and spirit.

He also showed that even when confronted with the most excruciating situation, there are moments of alleviating lightness. "I know the end might be near," he tweeted on Tuesday evening, "as this is the only day of my adulthood I've seen my mother and she hasn't asked, 'Why that shirt?'"

Simon has over a million followers who regularly tweet their support and thank him for helping them in their own similar situations. It seems likely that Twitter has made his experience easier and better than it might otherwise have been. As supporter Tom Killalea tweeted: "The purpose of Twitter is for Scott Simon to do what he's doing."

As for me, I have one of his tweets favourited and will never forget it. "I love holding my mother's hand. Haven't held it like this since I was 9. Why did I stop? I thought it unmanly? Crap."

Thank you for that Scott.

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