Drone Strikes Brought to You By Twitter


Think about your Twitter timeline. It probably consists of a several solid news sources, a dozen of your close friends, and a few entertainers that you fancy. The people you follow dictate the type of information that you wish to receive. But you probably don’t see the kind of information that I’m about to tell you about mixed in with short blurbs from CNN, your favorite sports teams, and Ricky Gervais.

In an interview with New York Magazine, Josh Begley, a 28-year-old New York University grad student, explained how he has taken it upon himself to tweet each and every single U.S. drone attack. The account, @dronestream, currently has nearly 20,000 followers, and over 240 tweets. It is a follow up to Begley’s Drone+, an iPhone app detailing every drone in real-time that was banned by Apple. Begley stated that he believed he could tweet more than a decade of reported situations involving drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen in ten short minutes. After four weeks, Begley was only able to get through the end of 2010. This is a tremendous undertaking for one person to accomplish.

Although President Barack Obama called out former President George W. Bush for his use of drone attacks while he was campaigning in 2008, the Obama administration had made drone attacks one of its signature national security policies. The work that Begley has encountered is a direct testament to this. Twitter has allowed us to receive information in a short and time-sensitive way. Many Twitter accounts that produce news often display the headline or catchphrase to an article with a link of the article following it. If a reader is interested by the headline or catchphrase, he/she will open the link and read more. Begley stated that he takes “anywhere from three to fifteen news reports for each strike, trying to pull out the one that is either most detailed or have proven to be the most accurate, and distilling it into a tweet.”

This is a very different way of using Twitter, to re-hash information that is already out there, reformat it, and release it again. It is impossible for Begley to timestamp his tweets when the drone attacks actually happened because he is reporting on them retroactively. Could you imagine if ESPN went back and did the same with a tweet for each winner of March Madness over the years? Over if Fox News went back and did the same for election results over the years to chronicle the winners? No one would care because the information is out there and taking the time to organize it for tweeting seems like a waste of time.

The time-sensitive nature of Twitter would seem to work against Begley. But he has done something that has never been done before: cataloged U.S. drone strikes in an easy and accessible way; and most importantly, reformat it into a way to reach people who would normally never be interested in this sort of thing. He doesn't necessarily have the most optimal resources, but after reading through his tweets as opposed to searching for drone strikes on Google, the work is rather impressive.

In 2011, The Library of Congress entered into a deal with Twitter to record every public tweet sent over the social networking site. The information on Twitter has been viewed as valuable for over a year. But this is the first time I’ve seen someone take past information, and organize it specifically for a Twitter account. Perhaps others will become inspired to do the same. And at some point, perhaps we will be able to use Twitter to see when each mass shooting in the U.S. occurred, the spreading of flu cases, and every bill passed in Congress.