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Mashable profiles victims of Paris attacks in 140 characters

Screengrab of the Twitter account @ParisVictims that was started by media company Mashable

Newspapers have traditionally offered a tribute to the victims of mass killings; after Paris, Mashable offers a remembrance for the digital age.

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Newspapers have long offered portraits of victims’ lives after mass killings. Following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, local paper The Oklahoman featured profiles of victims, titled “Those Who Died”. The New York Times ran “Portraits of Grief” for those slain in the September 2001 attacks.

The pieces offered a snapshot of the lives of the victims rather than the cold facts of their violent deaths.

After gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in the French capital on November 13, the digital news outlet Mashable hewed to this long standing ritual, which has become part documentation of the lives that were lost and part healing for friends and family, who find in obituaries a recognition of their loved ones.

Mashable filed the portraits - using a grand total of 140 characters each.

On Monday, the site launched a Twitter account named “En mémoire”, French for “In memory”, along with the handle @ParisVictims. The account sought to capture each victim of the attacks in 140 characters – the maximum size of a message on Twitter. Each tweet includes basic identifying details – name, age, country – and a quote or line about the person.

‘The human dimension’

“I want to find ways to share our information more widely,” Jim Roberts, executive editor and chief content officer of Mashable, told FRANCE 24 by phone. “I don’t want to lose sight of the human dimension.”

Twitter, he said, offered a solution.

It was Brian Ries, an editor at Mashable, who thought of the idea, Roberts recalled.

“Brian said ‘Why don’t we use Twitter? Why don’t we create a special account?’,” Roberts recounted. So they struck up a plan. “It felt like 15 minutes later,” Roberts said.

Roberts acknowledged that a platform such as Twitter can’t detail the contours of a human life, but he underscored that the message, especially the photo that accompanies each victim’s details, is powerful.

On Thursday, the Twitter account had 106 tweets and more than 50,000 followers.

“I think the key to this, the effectiveness of this project, is its simplicity,” Roberts said. That doesn’t mean that it was easy. Roberts said one of the biggest challenges was to report and research the victims from New York City.

The response, however, has been “overwhelmingly positive”, said Roberts. “People have seen in it the respect we’ve attempted to put into it.”

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