Here‘s the most riveting piece of journalism I’ve read in recent memory. It’s an account of last night’s shooting at a suburban block party in Scarborough, north east of metro Toronto, where a reported 22 people were injured and another 2 killed. It’s the most complete recounting of the incident published yet, containing all sorts of details absent from mainstream media reports. So who scooped the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun and the CBC? Someone calling themself BitchslappedByLogic, a pseudonymous contributor to the social news site Reddit who created the report solely by scraping Twitter for first-hand accounts.
The result is extraordinary, a near-instant scrapbook of the crime that intimately connects us with the community around it. The young people in the Scarborough community seem to use Twitter a lot. Many of the people whose tweets went into the scrapbook have tweeted over 30,000 times, with average audiences of less than 700 followers. For a gang-riddled community that vilifies “snitching” above all offenses, there’s a lot of loose talk online, most of it written in Caribbean patois-inflected street slang, seemingly intended solely for an audience of close friends, but all of it of course open to the public.
BitchslappedByLogic starts before the party even began, linking to tweets from the party’s host and from folks planning to attend. Clicking the links takes one on a chilling trip back in time, when an exuberant invite tweet went out with an Instagram photo of cognac bottles. At least three people predicted trouble, one of them gravely cautioning her followers: “[tonight] let us not war but party and bullshit.”
Then come the shootings. Five of the victims are identified, with links to their Twitter accounts, filled with the usual banal summertime chatter, tweeted at a lively pace right up until around midnight of July 16.
As soon as the shooting occurs, Twitter lights up with gossip and people trying to figure out if their friends and family were among the victims. BitchslappedByLogic gleans from this some leads on the conflict that led to the shooting, as well as some ominous threats about what’s to come. “This isn’t over,” is the message tweeted in various forms.
BitchslappedByLogic cites sources that professional reporters would not use–anonymous witnesses providing unconfirmed information. But she deals with this honestly–using the words “apparently” and “assume” over and over. And the post itself makes no great claims to absolute truth–it collects what has been said by those who seem to have been there, and the reader is free to click onward and investigate for herself. Many have, and they are filling in more blanks as the comment thread progresses.
The Reddit post has become a resource to mainstream journalists (including me, obviously). Click on any of the tweets linked to by BitchslappedByLogic, and you’ll find responses from reporters, hitting up the anonymous tweeters for interviews in the hope that the tweets can be converted into the kind of sourced information newspapers will actually run.
As it progresses, the story of the shooting is telling us other stories, about the fragile difference between snitching and tweeting, between reporting and aggregating, between rhyming a threat and shooting a gun.
Follow Jesse Brown on Twitter @JesseBrown