Watching Newtown unfold on Twitter was a strange experience. Like most news now, I first heard of it there, a colleague breaking the news in my timeline. I didn’t join in with RTs, and there was perhaps slightly less of the usual eager need to be the first to break the news than you sometimes get, certainly once it was clear that most of the dead were young children. Perhaps it was just too awful.
A respected journalist tweeted ‘you shouldn’t be on Twitter right now if you’re not tweeting about #Newtown’ – and I instantly felt bad about tweeting about being turned away from Pizza Express. Then I felt cross that someone was dictating the agenda for the whole of Twitter. Yes, the events were unimaginably awful – perhaps too awful to comprehend, and therefore there was, for someone so far away, some solace in the usual business of Twitter: sarcasm, funny pictures of cats and a well-refreshed Kim Wilde serenading fellow train passengers. ‘Kids in America’ – the dreadful irony didn’t even occur to me.
Part of me felt slightly detached from Newtown because I was not surprised. Have gun laws in the US changed since the last mass shooting? No? Well, there you go then. But I also felt a bit queasy watching my fellow Brits getting into arguments on Twitter with members of the NRA. I felt that it’s not our fight, the NRA are not likely to respond to foreigners telling them how to run their country. American citizens have to sort this out themselves.
So what can we do? We can share the unimaginable grief. We can wonder at some of the extraordinary acts of heroism. And we can share the experience of Dunblane and cold, hard statistical facts about deaths from handguns in countries like the United Kingdom which have far stricter gun control than the US.