Twitter Justice

If you see this, you’re following me.
I had to take a break from learning enough skills to add Twitter developer to my resume today. I spent most of the day at the Hall of Justice. To those of you outside of San Francisco, you may be thinking this is the point when these blog posts go from informative to insane. But ’round these parts, “Hall of Justice” is how we refer to the county courthouse. I share my location today to help illustrate the power Twitter can have in serving justice. Now I ask for your patience—and your indulgence—as I attempt to tie two courtroom dramas together through the power of Twitter.

While waiting outside the courtroom, I read a report about Chief Magistrate Howard Riddle allowing reporters to send Twitter updates from the Julian Assange bail application hearing. Comparing Twitter usage to any other text-based news transmission, the court allowed live updates from inside the chamber for the first time.

“If it is possible to file a story via email from a laptop in court, then why is Twitter any different?”
Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge– Judicial Studies Board, Belfast

This is where Twitter’s sharing power becomes tied to my day in court. You see, back in May, after a fine few days getting career advice from some bright benefactors, prominent peers, and influential individuals at the Web 2.0 Expo, I came home to fire up a fine fiesta for Cinco de Mayo. After dinner, our neighbors knocked on our door, invited us downstairs, and asked if any of our possessions were missing because they had found the front door to the building wide open, and their bikes gone. We filed a police report, detailing the items that were missing, took business cards from the responding officers, and chalked it up to a bad night in The City.

The next night, around the same time, I heard the front door to the building slam shut, our garage door open, and my car rev up and peel out into the driveway. I flew downstairs, sprinted into the street, and watched as the taillights on my 2003 Acura RSX faded west into the darkness of the night. Standing there in the dark, my first thought was, “Send out a Tweet.” So, while my girlfriend was on the phone with 911, I was composing 140 characters. Repeated updates, asking my followers to help spread the word, got my message out to hundreds—maybe thousands—in San Francisco and beyond. I already knew the power of Twitter, but this is when I discovered how to harness it: a call to action.

Many people I know, and many more that I didn’t, helped spread notice about my missing car. As more people shared my updates, interest in publicizing them grew. The car would be easy to spot, I thought, since my lisence plate matched my Twitter handle.

Noe Valley SF blog shared the tale. SFist put it on their front page. A local news station aired a story about the theft. Two days later, a cop working his beat in the Mission saw our car, remembered the news report, pulled over the driver, and busted the thief.

One Twitter update. Many retweets. Some blog stories. A televised news story. One recovered stolen car. It’s not just sending an update that matters. It’s prompting people to act. And I’m eternally grateful to my neighbors who did. Today, as we heard that the car thief and accomplice got sentenced to six years and three years, respectively, I was humbled by the willingness of people—strangers—to help when asked. To all my Twitter followers who helped during this saga, I say, “Thank you, and I’ll see you on the ‘morrow, on the Web.”
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Author  Stephen R. Fox