Until now, Twitter seemed set apart from the real world. It was like some fantasy high school, where the entire point was passing clever notes to your friends all day – oh, and those friends include your favorite celebrities.
Then on Friday, a 47-year-old woman in Silicon Valley whose Twitter name is “sandieguy” and whose bio reads, “Looking for a job!” — not hard to imagine the sad, anxious backstory there — sent a suicidal message to Demi Moore’s Twitter feed, @mrskutcher. The actress and Twitter fixture tweeted it to her 400,000 followers.
What happened next was the real world crashing the Twitter party – but instead of being a downer, it’s brought only more uplift and positive exposure to the microblogging service.
You see, there was a happy ending: The police found the woman and took her to the hospital – and now @sandieguy herself has gone from 30 to 800 or so Twitter followers.
Saturday night, she tweeted: “The wonderful support keeps pouring in! I’m amazed by the humanity. We should coin a new word– "TwitterLove!"”
Sunday morning, she seems already to have started paying it forward:
"Just waking up. Today I will go to my garden and pick anything I can to take down to the food bank. Gotta start somewhere."
What a contrast from the direct message she sent to Moore Friday morning:
"Getting a knife, a big one that is sharp. Going to cut my arm down the whole arm so it doesn’t waste time," Sandieguy wrote at about 3am PST. Then minutes later posted: "Gbye…gonna kill myself now."
Soon after, Moore copied the message to a tweet on her own page, adding, "Hope you are joking."
Several of Moore’s followers contacted police in San Jose, where Sandieguy’s profile listed her as living. The police went to her house and ended up bringing her to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.
Two hours later, Moore tweeted: "Thanks everyone for reaching out to the San Jose PD i am told they are aware and no need to call anymore. I do not know this woman."
The last time the Internet and a suicide attempt were linked, things did not go nearly as well: In November, 19-year old Abraham Briggs announced his intention to commit suicide in a chat room. Then he broadcast himself ODing via webcam. No one intervened to stop it.
This time, news reports have steadily been posted around the world, highlighting the sensational-seeming yet happy combination of Demi Moore, Twitter, and a suicide averted, with headlines like “Moore Twitter Session Saves a Woman’s Life." So far, only the dyspeptic gossip blog Jossip has not joined the lovefest, pointing out that Moore herself didn’t call the police, her followers did, and the woman does not appear to have gone through with an actual suicide attempt.
Well, sure, but what happened is a fascinating display of the way in which the Internet, and Twitter in particular, is in fact part of the “real world” now. A suffering woman’s life was, if not literally “saved,” then drastically transformed, and a celebrity started that process in motion. Why not marvel at that?
People used to complain that the Internet was a scary alternate universe, messing up our heads, sucking innocents away from their everyday responsibilities on planet Earth. Stories like Abraham Briggs’ webcammed suicide only tapped into our latent fears that technology somehow makes us less human.
Now, though, it’s clear that whatever dark possibilities it has brought, the Internet is also just another entertainment medium – and one with a new kind of immediate power. Sometimes that power can be used for good.
Demi Moore, whose Twitter feed is heavy on inspirational thoughts and uplift, presides over Twitter much the same way as Oprah does over daytime TV. (“What is meant to be will be we all have our own path to walk. I am inspired by the enormous response of humanity here and thank you,” Moore tweeted when the case of @sandieguy was closed.)
But on Twitter, Moore has the capacity to help the struggling with lightning speed. No one has to go through make-up first.