Ft. Hood Soldier Causes Stir on Twitter

Tweeting soldier sparks debate about real-time sharing online.

November 10, 2009, 10:12 AM

Nov. 11, 2009— -- Amid the tragedy last week at Fort Hood, as officials worked to secure the Texas military base, treat the wounded and account for the dead, one soldier turned to Twitter, sending a stream of up-to-the-minute reports from inside a hospital where the injured were being taken for treatment.

Some messages were simple observations, others expletive-laced commentary.

But in the shooting's aftermath, the soldier, Tearah Moore, 30, has found herself at the center of a sharp debate about the real-time sharing and whether the military should police the use of new media.

As news started to break about the deadly shooting that killed 12 soldiers and wounded 30 others, some users of the micro-blogging site Twitter started to notice the messages from one user in particular.

From the account of "MissTearah" came a flood of reports apparently from inside the locked-down military base:

"hey just brought a CART full of boxes w/transplant parts in them. Not good not good. #fthood," said one post.

"Ok we just saw a soldier on a stretcher w/2 armed guards walking by He didnt look like he was in great condition," said another.

As the identity of the alleged shooter emerged, the tone became harsher.

"Maj Malik A Hassan. He shouldn't have died. He should be in the worst suffering of his life. It's too fair for him to just die. Bastard!," "MissTearah" wrote.

And then: "A F****** MAJOR? Are you kidding me? A MAJ! For those of ut hat don't know, Army MAJ have pretty serious rank. Dick"

Ostensibly using a cellphone camera, she also took a picture of a wounded soldier entering the hospital on a gurney and then posted it online (the picture has since been taken down).

Moore did not respond to requests for comment from ABCNews.com. And since last Thursday, she has apparently changed her Twitter settings to private so that only those whom she approves can read her posts.

But her comments, which are still visible after searching Twitter for "MissTearah," have set off a controversy over the all too human use of social media within the regimented constructs of the armed forces.

Columnist: Do We Need to Share Everything Online?

In a column for the popular technology blog TechCrunch posted days after the shootings, journalist Paul Carr pointed to Moore's tweeting as an "example of how 'citizen journalists' can't handle the truth."

Although Moore's comments gave outsiders a rare view into the tragedy, he argues that the inaccuracy of many of her posts and apparent disregard for others' privacy undermines the value of her reports.

"Many of Moore's eye-witness reports weren't worth the bits they were written on. They had no value whatsoever, except as entertainment and tragi-porn," he wrote.

Though he acknowledged that some of Moore's tweets encouraged people to give blood and were otherwise helpful, Carr said that Moore's Twitter stream points out that not everything a person witnesses needs to be broadcast widely with new media.

"We forget the humanity of it. We think, 'I'm witnessing this, I must share it,'" Carr told ABCNews.com. "I think as a society we need to evolve a bit quicker and remember what's appropriate -- help or get out of the way. You don't have to be at the center of it. You don't have to take a picture of it."

Not only can real-time reports compromise the privacy of others, in breaking news situations, he said they can also negatively affect reports released by legitimate news outlets.

Though the mainstream media tries to confirm reports before distributing them, he said "citizen journalism gets sort of laundered by the professional media as it were."

And some fellow Twitter users seemed to agree.

One warned Moore that the picture she posted to the site "was going to come back and bite you in the a**."

Another Twitter user wrote, "She needs to stop speculating and get back to work. Ft Hood needs everyone today."

Others, however, took a different view.

In a piece for Toronto's Globe and Mail, Mathew Ingram, the paper's communities editor, defended Moore's posts.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm glad that someone was there to videotape it and let the outside world know about it," he wrote, adding that though Moore made errors in reporting, mainstream news outlets made similar mistakes.

"That is a fundamentally journalistic impulse, and the more people who have it, the better off we will all be — even if we have to put up with errors and misunderstandings along the way."

Department of Defense Drafting Social Media Policy

But what about the fact that Moore, a member of the armed forces, used Twitter to broadcast messages from a military base that was under communications lockdown? Cell phone calls and text messages were off limits. Should Twitter have been banned too?

The Department of Defense is in the process of creating a social media policy that is expected to be released in the next few months. In the meantime, Army spokesmen say soldiers should treat new media the same way they would treat old media in emergencies and sensitive situations.

"We would want our soldiers to be aware of the implications of their Twittering," said Lt. Christopher Garver, an Army spokesman at the Pentagon.

In emergencies, he said, soldiers aren't supposed to use phones or e-mail, an effort to ensure that families of wounded or fallen soldiers can learn about their loved ones through the proper channels.

That policy should extend to Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media, Garver said, but added that, given how frequently younger generations use new media, they're sometimes less aware of their actions' consequences.

"They're often surprised by the implications," he said.

TechCrunch's Carr said the Army's forthcoming social media policy indicates a step in the right direction.

"It's something that can only become a more serious problem. That's what the Army should be thinking," he said. "Twitter about your life when you're not on the base. The moment you put on the uniform, stop Twittering."

Garver declined to comment on whether or not Moore's Twitter stream violated military policy, and said the decision fell to the chain of command at Fort Hood.

When contacted by ABCNews.com, a Fort Hood public affairs officer said her office was not aware of Moore's tweets but another office might be looking into it.

"It saddens me that there wasn't some consideration of the family of these people that were wounded," said Margaret Brewster, command information chief. But she added, "People do what they do in cases like this."

However, she said soldiers weren't entirely without direction when it comes to new media.

"We have guidance about social media and, of course, we tell soldiers to be careful," she said. "We understand that our soldiers are young, and frequently this is the way they communicate."

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