Speedy Twit­ter tells world of at­tack

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - CAITLIN ROSS

WHEN Gregg Cop­pen heard whis­tles and shout­ing he rushed up­stairs and watched 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.

Once he got over the shock, he in­stinc­tively reached for his cell­phone and com­posed a brief mes­sage about the at­tack and posted it on Twit­ter.

“Holy s***. We just saw a gi­gan­tic shark eat what looked like a per­son in front of our house.” Then: “We are dumb­struck, that was so sur­real. That shark was HUGE. Like di­nosaur huge.”

Within min­utes Cop­pen’s tweets were be­ing picked up and passed on – retweeted – across the globe via Twit­ter.

Soon news­pa­pers, ra­dio and TV picked them up and put his com­ments in their re­ports on the hor­rific at­tack.

Now Gregg, who has be­come the lat­est Twit­ter “twilebrity”, 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.

“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 lamp-post 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 one yes­ter­day, 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? 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 SA ranks in the top 10 world­wide for Twit­ter us­age.

Be­ing in the top 10 at the mo­ment is sig­nif­i­cant, said Buck­land. – West Cape News

PIC­TURE: MATTHEW JOR­DAAN

TAK­ING NO CHANCES: Heidi Ern­stzen uses binoc­u­lars to scan for sharks at Fish Hoek beach while her boyfriend Vin­cent Fred­er­icks is in the wa­ter.

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