Twitter And The Marysville School Shooting

October 26, 2014

Last week we experienced another tragedy in this country– a school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington. The hashtag #MarysvilleShooting was trending in the United States for most of the day on October 24. My goal has been to trace the tweets and find out who broke the news first on Twitter and what was the lag time between the first 911 call and the first tweet appearing on Twitter.

First 911 call is made to law enforcement — 11:39 a.m. MT

NBC News has reported the first 911 call for the Marysville school shooting came into the dispatch center at 11:39 a.m. They also reported the school resource officer arrived in the cafeteria at 11:41 a.m.

@SnohomishTimes Posts First Tweet On Marysville School Shooting — 11:43 a.m. MT

Marysville School ShootingThe first tweet about the Marysville school shooting occurs just four minutes after the initial 911 call reporting the incident. The Snohomish Times is a small newspaper located 10 miles from Marysville in Snohomish, WA. They did not include any hashtags in any of their tweets. However, they were first to break the news on Twitter.

#MarysvilleShooting hashtag is first used by @twodogues — 11:53 a.m. MT

First use of #MarysvilleShooting hashtagThis is an important tweet to document. Kevin (@twodogues) is the first non-news entity to tweet about the Marysville school shooting. Based on the content of his tweet and later tweets he posted it appears he was listening to a police scanner and tweeting information as it was broadcast by emergency personnel.

Hashtag isn’t used again until 18 minutes later at 12:11 p.m. MT


There was a significant lag between @twodoghues first usage of #MarysvilleShooting and other users picking it up 18 minutes to be exact. This lag shows the hashtag had not been organically set.

@twodogues initial tweet get RTs and sets the hashtag

MARY44Based on this data, we can conclude that the #MarysvilleShooting hashtag is set by 12:17 p.m. MT That means from the time of the incident it only took 38 minutes for the hashtag to be well established organically by early users in the conversation. As the story began to break on local media (shortly after 12 p.m. MT) users turned to Twitter and uncovered Kevin’s tweet leading to many retweets in the first hour, thus setting the hashtag.

What it means

We’ve seen this many times before in other breaking news events on Twitter. Hashtag origination for the event takes place almost instantaneously as the crisis is unfolding. You will not be able to control the hashtag during a crisis. If you’re a key voice in the conversation you’ll need to adapt and use what the community on Twitter has already established. Trying to change the hashtag during the event will only add confusion and make the hashtag less effective as a communications tool.

Have you experienced this #smem phenomenon during a crisis situation you’ve been involved in? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

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