News agency, Cape Town, South Africa
Monday May 20th 2019

Shark attack tweet shows power of twitter

Caitlin Ross

When Gregg Coppen heard whistles and shouting he rushed upstairs and watched in fascination as a huge shark attacked what he initially thought was a buoy in the sea 300 metres below his house at Fish Hoek beach.

But the shark was attacking a person, later identified as Zimbabwean Lloyd Skinner.

Once he got over the shock, he instinctively reached for his cell phone and composed a brief message about the attack and posted it out on twitter, the social media network that allows only 140 characters and has taken the world by storm.

Holy s***. We just saw a gigantic shark eat what looked like a person in
front of our house.’
A moment later he followed up with: “We are dumbstruck, that was so surreal. That shark was HUGE. Like dinosaur huge’.

Within minutes Coppen’s tweets were being picked up and being passed on –
retweeted – across the globe via twitter. It didn’t take long before newspapers, radio and TV picked them up and included his comments in their reportage of the horrific attack.

Now Gregg, who has become the latest twitter ‘twillebrity’, from his words being seized by the media and quoted in headlines across the world, is “astounded”.
“I had absolutely no conception of how fast it would spread as far as it has. I would have thought about the wording a lot more if I had known,’ he said yesterday. “I’m astounded by the speed at which a few clumsily
constructed sentences can get around.”

Since posting those initial comments Coppen has seen his following on twitter grow daily, with 400 new followers since the attack.
“As the story has travelled to different countries, so I have got new followers from there.”

His words, first appearing in print in Cape Town and South Africa, became headlines and appeared on lamppost posters, finally reaching the international media, like the UK Guardian, Daily Mail and Sky News.
He’s given a number of radio interviews, the latest being on Friday, with a Brisbane radio station.

But his quotes have also sometimes been mangled in translation, like when a Norwegian – via Google translate – quoted Coppen as saying: “We saw a giant shark eating up anything that seemed to be a person outside our house.”

But it was Coppen’s description of the great white as being “dinosaur huge” that really got the media frenzy going.
“My wife and I have thought about it quite a lot, and we think the dinosaur reference comes from the fact that sharks do come from prehistoric times and there is that connection, more just to describe the size than like a T-Rex in the water,” he said.

The attention has also got Coppen, who works as a web developer, carefully thinking about each new tweet.
“Who reads it? There is almost a sense of pressure – how do you follow up a shark attack tweet? I don’t know exactly why people are following me now. The whole thing is pretty farcical,” he said.

Farcical though it may be, Coppen is “in a quandary in many ways” about the situation, given the tragic nature of the event. “It’s very sad and we have great sympathy for the family and friends of the victim. It’s very weird to have gained this twitter fame off such a tragic event,” he said.

Coppen said he has been using twitter for the last year and it was his instinctive reaction to post the comments, once he had spent “a few minutes of being shell shocked”.
“The interesting thing is that the experience lasted all of 10 seconds, but the exposure, the questions and hundreds of replies in the twitter medium have gone on for a number of days. It’s definitely opened my eyes to the conversational properties of twitter, as opposed to broadcasting.”

Matthew Buckland, head of 20FourLabs and a prominent South African new media guru and blogger, said recent statistics show South Africa ranks in the top 10 worldwide for twitter usage.
“It shows we are an early-adopter nation and that twitter has traction, however, not that the service has mass appeal here. As a country we tend to hit saturation fairly quickly as we hit our internet audience ceiling, then
tend to drop down the rankings.
Being in the top 10 at the moment, however, is significant,” said Buckland.

Media like twitter are generally popular among the internet-savvy elite in South Africa, mirroring web access in the country in general. But a switch to web access via cell phones was broadening usage, he said.
There are now between five and seven million desktop users, with mobile web users estimated to be at least double this figure. But this does not necessarily reflect adoption.
“I would be surprised if there were more than 20 000 South Africans tweeting,” he said.

Also significant, said Buckland is the social potential for the medium. “Twitter facilitates social networking and real-time micro-publishing. It has the ability to spread real-time information virally, fast, via what the
twitter community refers to as “ReTweets”. News, like this of the shark attack here, is often broken on twitter before any other medium. Users are able to broadcast information quickly and potentially to a large audience.”

Despite the lopsided representation of South Africans on twitter, the influence should not be underestimated.
“This does not detract from the influence of the service here. Local media are increasingly using the service as a source for stories, seduced by the currency of the information and favourable economics of the news gathering process,” he said.

Tags: dinasour huge, Fish Hoek, Great White, Greg Coppen, Lloyd Skinner, shark attack, twilebrity, twitter

Reader Feedback

One Response to “Shark attack tweet shows power of twitter”

  1. Heapsy says:

    What a loser a guy had just been ripped into bits by a great white shark and swallowed whole.

    Thats one of the worst death’s you could possibly endure, and this attention seeking idiots first reaction is to post what he has seen on twitter.

    Really shows the sad state of society today doesent it????

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