Weekend summer evenings in downtown Toronto are normally bustling with pedestrians, festival goers, and shoppers peacefully hanging out at the mall.
On Saturday evening, that usual peacefulness was shattered as gunshots replaced the usual sounds in the Toronto Eaton Centre food court. One person died at the scene with seven others injured including a 13-year-old boy who suffered gunshot wounds. He is currently improving.
News of the incident instantly broke.
But it broke not on broadcast nor through traditional mainstream media reporting. One of the first to report it was a professional baseball player tweeting live from the scene:
Pretty sure someone just let off a round bullets in eaton center mall .. Wow just sprinted out of the mall ... Through traffic ...— Brett Lawrie (@blawrie13) June 2, 2012
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People sprinting up the stairs right from where we just were ... Wow wow wow— Brett Lawrie (@blawrie13) June 2, 2012
Lawrie's subsequent tweets that included photos from outside the mall were widely retweeted and accompanied initial media reports.
This is crazy. ... I hope everyone is ok ... twitter.com/blawrie13/stat...— Brett Lawrie (@blawrie13) June 2, 2012
Six minutes later:
This is serious .. Oh my god twitter.com/blawrie13/stat...— Brett Lawrie (@blawrie13) June 2, 2012
Lawrie (@blawrie13) had a Twitter following of about 124,000 before the tragic event. It has since jumped by several thousand.
The way social media has changed how the public hears about events is evident when looking back seven years ago. .
On Boxing Day 2005, 15-year-old Jane Creba was an innocent bystander who died from gunshot wounds as violence erupted on Yonge Street just north of the Eaton Centre.
Then, as now, a feeling of the need for a community vigil has organically taken root.
What the city is also now experiencing is the speed at which vigils can come together.
Unlike December 2005, when it took a week for me to organize such a vigil, today's social media tools have allowed that organizing to coalesce within hours.
In 2005, we used photoblogs to convey images. Flickr was the social network with images and captions being the currency of choice. And links to online mainstream media reports lent authenticity to news reporting.
Today, people need not rely on dedicated photoblogs nor Flickr. There is Facebook, Twitter, retweets, and all the forwarding of those links to various other smaller yet niche prevalent social networks.
My first direct glimpse of this new reality was last July after the shootings in Norway.
From that one tweet and on such short notice, a small vigil was held in Little Norway Park in Toronto's Harbourfront neighbourhood. Aside from a number of blog mentions, only CBC Radio plus The Toronto Star covered my Norway Toronto Vigil with a brief item.
Yet in even under a year, the acceleration of vigil organizing using social media is now even more pronounced. For example, this from today:
I have the strange, sudden urge to organize a vigil for tomorrow at Yonge-Dundas Square at 6pm.— Karen K. Ho (@karenkho) June 3, 2012
Karen quickly set up a Facebook Event Page.
Today, no one is surprised, least of all traditional mainstream media reporting with numerous outlets crediting Blue Jays player Lawrie's tweet with "breaking" the Eaton Centre shooting story.
The community vigil for victims of the Eaton Centre shooting begins Sunday at 6 p.m. in Yonge-Dundas Square, directly across the street from the Toronto Eaton Centre Food Court exits.
Everyone is welcome.