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