Oscar Pistorius: Living the nightmare

David Bullard says Twitter offers a frighteningly accurate real time measure of public opinion on the murder case

Oscar's Twittering world

There's nothing like a good murder mystery to sell newspapers is there? And it doesn't get much better than the Oscar Pistorius case which has all the ingredients of a Hollywood blockbuster.  Good looking national icon who has overcome disability to become an Olympian kills model girlfriend on the morning of Valentine's day. One moment of madness, a lifetime of sadness. 

The Pistorius version is that he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder early in the morning and, in the pitch black,  pumped four bullets from his 9mm into a bathroom door before checking whether his girlfriend was safe in bed. The prosecution's version of events that evening are rather different and suggest that Mr Pistorius may have intended to kill Reeva Steenkamp. 

Bearing in mind that all this information has come spewing out from a mere bail hearing I think it fair to say that we can look forward to a spectacularly sensational murder trial. Whatever else Oscar Pistorius may have done, at least he's delayed the demise of the print media.

It's also been bonanza time for SA journos with all sorts of South African talking heads (this one included) invited to pen articles for foreign newspapers and appear on TV to give their impressions of how Oscargate is affecting the nation's psyche. One welcome side effect is that it eclipsed the lacklustre State of the Nation address and saved us all the trouble of looking for any substance in the President's rambling speech.

One of the most interesting things about the Pistorius affair though is the amount of social media activity it has spawned. I may be wrong but I think the news of the shooting was first broken on Twitter by Beeld, closely followed by 702's Barry Bateman and his must have been one of the most followed Twitter accounts since the shooting. Journalists at the bail hearing are able to release short bulletins via Twitter and more established news sources like newspapers now follow up with the rather more detailed analysis.

It seems an ideal symbiotic relationship and undoubtedly sets the agenda for news reporting in the future;  gobbets of need to know stuff in real time all within 140 characters followed by the expanded story on a website and in a newspaper.

Apart from satisfying the insatiable public demand for more information in a case like this, Twitter also offers a frighteningly accurate measure of public opinion. Early on Thursday morning there was enormous sympathy for Pistorius as the story of the "accidental" shooting was reported. That evaporated within a few hours as the police announced that they believed they were looking at a murder case.

As tidbits of "evidence" and rumours of a domestic argument were drizzled out on Twitter everybody suddenly became an expert in ballistics, psychology, substance abuse and blood spatter analysis. Bizarrely, the investigation into the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp became a sort of grotesque social media reality show with everyone invited to play. The Twitterverse was never short of opinion, most of it uninformed and much of it swayed by the latest revelation, whether confirmed or not.

By Monday of this week, even if there had been insufficient evidence to pin a murder charge on Oscar Pistorius, the Twitterverse had worked itself into a frenzy of hatred with the mob baying for blood.

After the first day of his bail hearing I posted a Tweet "Difficult as his version of his events may be to believe it's impossible not to feel compassion for Oscar who is truly living a nightmare". My followers leapt on me for even suggesting his possible innocence. And as far as compassion was concerned, he deserves what's coming to him they felt.

But it is difficult not to feel compassion for the tragic figure of Oscar Pistorius as he stands condemned by public opinion. He has the look of a hunted animal about to be ripped to pieces by hounds. He knows that all those lucrative sponsorships will disappear and that, whatever the outcome of the case, he will never be remembered for his athletic prowess. He knows that his enemies are only too happy to twist the knife with stories of his raging temper and domestic violence.

He knows that the ANC Women's League believe he should rot in jail and he knows that all those journos who were so far up his backside only a few weeks ago are now out to get him. He knows that people are talking about how he has let down so many kids who held him as a role model and he knows that he is almost certain to be facing a long jail sentence at the age of 26.

He knows that all the resources of the state will be used to look at every aspect of his life in an attempt to secure a conviction. He knows his legal advice could easily bankrupt him.  In short, Oscar Pistorius is a man with very few friends and a lot of fear in his heart at the moment. He is living the worst nightmare possible and, for that reason alone, we should reserve judgement until the law has taken its course.

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