As many of you I’m sure will know, yesterday the United States carried out its first firing squad execution in 14 years. Ronnie Lee Gardner, a convicted murderer who has sat on death row for twenty-five years before meeting his end, was executed by firing squad just after midnight yesterday in Utah, an execution method he chose before Utah outlawed it in 2004. However, just after authorizing the execution, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff used TwitBird for iPhone and began typing in the message: “I just gave the go ahead to Corrections Director to proceed with Gardner’s execution. May God grant him the mercy he denied his victims”.

Mr. Shurtleff used his Twitter account to announce the execution of a human being. Within minutes the message leaped across the internet through re-tweeting and many people today are expressing their quite strong views for and against using Twitter for such an announcement. Personally, I lean with those against it. I, personally, advocate and enjoy the power of social networking when it is being used safely and correctly. It allows people to connect with one another, to stay in contact from the four corners of the globe and to share content. However, when it comes to the point that a platform – granted has seen some major uses, from simple voicing on TV shows to creating constant communication throughout the Iranian elections – is being used to announce the demise a person up to the final minutes of their life, I’m not entirely sure is what we would tend to call socially acceptable or even moral.

Shortly afterward, most likely after hearing of the huge debate and discussion that was around the internet with regards to Mr. Shurtleff’s Twitter posts, he posted another update: “I believe in an informed public. As elected official I use social media to communicate directly with people…”. Again, I will stress that Twitter is an excellent way of communicating with people. However, anybody who cared to watch the evening news would be privy to knowing the time of Gardner’s execution. They would know that he was going to be executed at midnight; they were already informed. If they wanted to do so, they could look at a clock and work out exactly when Gardner would be killed. But many people do not – personally I wouldn’t want a stream of three Twitter posts appearing in my updates about the execution of a person, dampening the mood and atmosphere and interjecting in my day the details of the “most extreme power” that would be used to put Gardner to death. I knew about it, I didn’t want it fed to me whenever I glanced at Twitter. Clearly Gardner was very twisted and evil himself, but I do not think that Twitter is a suitable or professional method to announce such a thing. Over the course of the day Mr. Shurtleff left a number of posts leading up to the execution, and I do not believe that being told via Twitter, in a single post surrounded by and standing out among a massive collection of much more upbeat and casual tweets, is the right place for information like that – knowing that in minutes somebody is about to be executed, that somebody is going to have bullets shot at them.

A few hours later, Mr. Shurtleff posted: “WARNING! This page informs on real world of crime and punishment. “If u can’t stand the TWEET, get out of the TWITCHEN” Harry Truman”. Even more so, after announcing an execution, to post a humorous quote about tweets and “twichens”, and to be somewhat sarcastic it would seem in warning people if they can’t stand real life crime, don’t look at this page, I was surprised at how inappropriate this appears to be to me, and how displaced appeared to be when you glanced down to see posts about execution and death – almost as if he doesn’t want to listen to some views of the public, he is prepared to an extent mock their feelings and position on the situation. I’m sorry for such a serious-tone post today, but I thought that this was an important topic to address.

I’m interested in hearing what you think about this story? Do you think that Twitter is an unsuitable place to post messages such as this? Are you against or in support of Mark Shurtleff for writing this? Was he wrong to do such a thing or simply keeping the public informed? Let me know, in a comment.

Mark Shurtleff’s Twitter Feed