NewsOnLaurenS was created two days after Lauren Spierer disappeared and already the Twitter user has gained a following of more than 21,000.
In fewer than two weeks, the social networker has gathered the world’s attention to tweet at celebrities, catapult missing IU student Lauren Spierer’s image all over the Internet and create a community of support for friends.
The user behind the account has a background in marketing.
“Twitter is a giant interactive platform where content can spread like wildfire,” she said in an email.
She has networked with friends and supporters to create “advocates” who send Twitter messages to celebrities, asking them to Tweet about Lauren.
Hans Ibold, who researches new media in the School of Journalism, called Twitter a “game changer” in the case of Lauren Spierer. He said it levels the playing field and makes celebrities accessible.
“It’s been good for this family to have more people talking about the case,” he said. “Everyone is talking about Lauren.”
Ibold pointed out there are multiple online communities besides Twitter. Commenters on news sites and Facebook have also sprung up as forums for discussing the case.
“When you’re posting anonymously, it’s a nice freedom to say something without fear of social retribution,” Ibold said. “The commenters may be adding things that wouldn’t be said by the reporter because they couldn’t be verified.”
Each commenting community has its own personality and norms, said Kevin Makice, a Ph.D.. candidate in the School of Informatics who wrote a textbook on Twitter.
Commenters on news sites and Facebook often engage in more speculation, but @NewsOnLaurenS has done the hard work of keeping the conversation to facts and support for the family, Makice said.
The person behind @NewsOnLaurenS has done many things well, he said. First, she has set a friendly but urgent tone. She quotes news sources and separates quotes from her own voice.
“Lauren can’t speak for herself,” he said, “so the picture of her and this account become a proxy.”
@NewsOnLaurenS retweets other people, so there’s a sense of humanity that people all over the country can be involved in the conversation, he said.
“The value of Twitter is in the serendipity that you’ll get by including more people,” he said. “You don’t know what skills and information people will bring to the puzzle.”
The user is also asking people to target specific celebrities, then making sure to thank them if they tweet the message about Lauren, he said.
Makice said the biggest challenge for @NewsOnLaurenS and those involved in the Twitter dialogue will be to keep the momentum up on a slow news day.
“It’s the digital equivalent of the way taste buds work,” he said. “After a while, the brain will tune out the same tweets or it’ll be overwhelmed. You’re more likely to respond to new information.”
To combat compassion fatigue, the account can release more details about Lauren as a person and friend and keep on top of news updates, he said.
He added that the user has been doing those things consistently.
“Everything that account has done has been really well done,” he said. “I don’t know if, in the absence of Twitter, this story would have gotten people’s attention like it has and picked up national press.”
@IDSnews: What is your connection to Lauren and the Spierers?
@NewsOnLaurenS: I learned about Lauren, like most of the world, online. I had no personal connection to the family before Lauren went missing.
@IDSnews: Why are you so motivated to do this?
@NewsOnLaurenS: Lauren is all of us. She is me. She is my best friend. She is my little sister as she leaves home for her first year in college.
@NewsOnLaurenS: Indiana University means a great deal to our family. Both my parents are alum and my brother is currently attending.
@NewsOnLaurenS: I do work in marketing, so it made sense to bring my professional skills to bear as a natural extension of my work.
@IDSnews: What does your day look like?
@NewsOnLaurenS: I’ve been falling asleep around 2 - 3 a.m. after one last “PUSH” to remind followers to RT (retweet) Lauren’s info.
@NewsOnLaurenS: A few hours later, I wake up, grab my iPhone and update my feed.
@NewsOnLaurenS: Typically, I find an inspiring message to RT to energize myself and our community. Then, it’s off to my regular business day at work.
@NewsOnLaurenS: I’m never too far away from my phone. If my schedule allows, I will tweet through the press conference and occasionally during the day.
@NewsOnLaurenS: In the evening, I continue to strategize and find new ways to inspire those to continue their advocacy work to help #FindLauren.
@IDSnews: How have you gotten so many influential people to tweet about Lauren?
@NewsOnLaurenS: The response has been really amazing, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s not about one person.
@NewsOnLaurenS: While I’m grateful for the support of the celebs, there are thousands of people who have been working tirelessly to help
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