Jessica Glenza of the Register Citizen did some excellent reporting in a story published today about sexual assault allegations against two high school football players in Torrington, Conn.
A critical aspect of the story and of Jessica’s reporting was her documentation of cyber-bullying of the 13-year-old girl named as the victim in the alleged assault. The story includes screen shots of nine tweets (four of them pictured above) that attempted to blame and shame the girl. One of them was retweeted 21 times and favorited 13 times. Without the tweets themselves (some of them using vulgar language that the Register Citizen wisely didn’t water down), second-hand allegations or rumors of cyber-bullying would have weakened the story. The tweets make the bullying a well-documented fact.
I have asked Jessica and her editors to provide a detailed account (when they have time) of how they tracked down the tweets used in the story. Editor John Berry gave a quick explanation by email this morning:
The Twitter trail started when (C0-Managing Editor) Tom Cleary started looking in to the suspects themselves, then followed to friends, and saw the larger problem of the bullying and “slut-shaming” from classmates.
This school district is notoriously tight-lipped and difficult. We have been trying to get a story about the hazing incident and bullying in the schools for months now, but the fact that two players got arrested last month led to seeing all of the tweets once we realized that the suspects in the sexual assault were Torrington football players.
We quoted several in print and used screen caps of a few of the tweets on the front page.
Some Twitter tips on working a story like this (some of them are my suggestions and speculation about what the Register Citizen journalists might have done, pending a more detailed account from them):
- Use advanced Twitter search to look for local tweets using keywords such as “whore” or “hoes” in or near your community. Each time you find a relevant tweet, that might give you some more words to search for, such as “punishment,” “destroyed” or “fault.” Use the search with and without a location filter, because most Twitter users do not enable location. When searching without the location, search with and without a location keyword, such as “Torrington.”
- Because Twitter search doesn’t go back indefinitely, use Google (with “Twitter” in your search query) to search as well. Or Topsy.
- If the suspects are on Twitter, check the tweets of their followers and go through their timelines, looking for any retweets of bullying tweets or replies such as “thanks.” You can do this by clicking “followers” or “following” on their profile, as I’ve shown below on Jessica’s profile.
- Take screen grabs each time you find a shaming tweet. Normally I favor embedding tweets, as I’ve done below with the Register Citizen’s tweet linking to the story and with one of the tweets cited in the story. However, in cases like this you should expect that the shamers will delete their tweets (disabling your embed), either when you start inquiring about them or when you publish (if the tweet below is deleted, you’ll see). Below the embedded tweet is a screen grab with the same tweet. That will be good even if the tweet is deleted. So use the screen grab rather than embedding the tweet (though you probably should link to the actual tweet if it’s still live, or you could embed and use the screen grab).
— Register Citizen (@RegisterCitizen) March 20, 2013
I wanna know why there’s no punishment for young hoes
— Ant (@asmedick) February 22, 2013
- Each time you find a relevant tweet, click “expand” on the tweet, or click the time-stamp (in the upper right corner of the tweet in your timeline) to open the tweet as its own URL. That will show replies, retweets and favorites (as in the screen grab below).
- Use Google to search for key phrases (and “Twitter”) in tweets to find people who retweeted by quoting, rather than clicking “retweet” or “reply.”
- Check each person’s Twitter profile to see what they tell about themselves, such as hometown or where they go to school. Also check their timelines, which might tweet about school matters or otherwise identify them as living in your community.
- Follow the people. If they follow you back, you can direct-message them with an interview request.
- You also can tweet directly at someone asking for an interview. Give a phone number and/or email address for them to contact you.
Two points not related to Twitter:
- I blogged last year about my irritation about the use of the term “alleged victim” in sexual assault cases. I’m pleased that the Register Citizen did not use this terminology in the story. This might not be a case where my suggested alternative — “accuser” — would not be appropriate, because we don’t know (from the story at least) whether the girl made any accusation. Perhaps authorities built the case from photos the boys took or accounts of witnesses or the girl’s parents. Still, you can and should write around, rather than using “alleged victim.” Above I referred to her as “the 13-year-old girl named as the victim in the alleged assault.”
- I was pleased to see the Register Citizen use Scribd to embed the actual arrest reports.
I’ll have more on this later, when I hear more from my Torrington colleagues. Given the similarities to the Steubenville, Ohio, sexual-assault case, I expect this story to attract a lot of national attention.
Do you have more suggestions on working a story like this?
Earlier #twutorial blog posts
In addition, these two posts predate the #twutorial series but I’ve made them part of it: