ELISABETH STOKES: “I clung to every tweet…”

ELISABETH STOKES: “I clung to every tweet…”
February 22, 2016 Julia Madeline Taylor

“I clung to every tweet and was grateful that you (@JuliaFBXLawRpt) were answering questions, so that even far away I could be part of the conversation.” 

Elisabeth Stokes, participating is the "Put Your 4s Up" Challenge, from Maine.

Elisabeth Stokes, joins the “Put Your 4s Up” Challenge from Maine.

Stokes is a writing and journalism professor, and has written professionally about her experiences growing up in Alaska, and the death of a classmate when she was a high school student in Fairbanks. She has been following the coverage of the Fairbanks Four case since John Hartman’s death, and still feels connected to the Fairbanks community, even living thousands of miles away.

“You made it seem like I could be just as close to everything as you were, because you included so much more in what you tweeted than just summaries. I felt like I didn’t have to understand everything that was going on, because I expected that you did, and I trusted that you were telling us not just the blow-by-blow, but what was important to the case,” Stokes said, when we talked by phone.

Question: What made you interested in the Fairbanks Four Evidentiary Hearing?

Stokes: “I grew up in Fort Yukon and Fairbanks, and went to Lathrop, so I’ve known about the case for many years. I am still connected to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church; and a lot of support and activism came out of there over the years. I was seeing a lot of Facebook posts from people there and in Fort Yukon over the last few years.”

Q: How many times per day, on average, did you check coverage about the hearing?

Stokes: “As soon as the coverage started each day, I was either following it on my computer or my phone, constantly. The time difference worked to my advantage; being four hours ahead, things didn’t seem to really get going until my workday was pretty much over, and I could follow very closely.”

Q: How much of what you read about the Fairbanks Four evidentiary hearing came through Twitter?

Stokes: “Everything came through Twitter. I would read the later coverage in traditional sources, but it was just a recap of what I already knew.”

Q: Would you have felt that you knew enough about what was going on without Twitter coverage? If not, what did Twitter coverage add for you?

Stokes: “No, I would have been frustrated I think, if all that had been available to me was traditional news coverage. There was something about the Tweets that felt unfiltered, raw, clear, and energizing – maybe because it was “real time,” the way I was reading them, right as they posted. I may have learned the facts by reading traditional sources, but even just a few hours after the fact the information seemed stale and packaged.

That unfiltered aspect may be the most important – I get that whoever was tweeting was deciding what to say, but it was happening so fast that it didn’t feel there was much over-thinking or manipulation of the words and information; it felt like raw data and it was up to me to figure out what to make of it. I liked that.”


Q: When and how did you become aware that something was happening on December 17, 2015, in relation to the Fairbanks Four?

Stokes: “There were hints along the way early on that day, like the Alaska Innocence Project folks were seen carrying bags of clothes into the building. I think I saw that on Facebook. Then there were pictures on Twitter of people waiting outside the courtroom. It started to feel real as the tweets and pictures of reporters started containing more concrete evidence that the Fairbanks Four were in the courthouse too.”

Q: What level of interest did you have in what was happening on December 17, 2015, and what sources did you turn to for information?

Stokes: “I had a very high level of interest. It was all I could think about that day, and when they were finally released I was crying, all by myself out here in Maine! I followed everything on Twitter, just kept my phone in my hand pulling down to refresh, refresh, refresh. The Tweets poured in 2, 4, 10 at a time sometimes. Without the tweets I would have felt so much farther from home than I already did.”

The first photo out on Twitter showing the Fairbanks Four as free men.

The first photo out on Twitter showing the Fairbanks Four as free men.

Q: What was the 1st way that you heard that the Fairbanks Four had been released? Where did you see the first picture of them free?

Stokes: “I saw the courtroom pictures first, and then a video of them being released from Fairbanks Correctional Center. I know someone who works at FCC and called her immediately to get her perspective. She had known in advance, but maintained confidentiality of course. She said it was exhilarating to be a part of it. For me, it was wonderful to still be able to feel connected, in some small way, to them being free.”

Q: Are there any things from the proceedings that relate to Twitter that you would like to share?

Stokes: “Being so far away, I deeply appreciated being able to follow everything moment by moment. It would have been endlessly frustrating to have to sit and wait for information, knowing that whatever I eventually learned was hours old. I was particularly grateful to be able to picture the Fairbanks Four in their first moments of freedom as they were happening.

There were a lot of people who I knew who trusted you, and so I started following you as soon as they did. The volume of tweets was really important. It’s what gave it the depth and the immediacy so that it didn’t’ feel like a live sports fame, or reality TV. It was homegrown and real. It felt like being in the middle of it really unfolding, and I appreciate the depth of knowledge that it took to be able to create that authentically.”

(Some interview answers have been edited for length and clarity.)

Julia Madeline Taylor
UAF Journalism major & Alaska Native Studies minor - From live tweeting the entire 2015 Fairbanks Four hearing, following the political changes coming from legal decisions in Alaska and federal courts, to keeping an eye on events around UAF and Fairbanks, I am always looking for the story behind the story. Got an idea that you think is being missed? Drop me an email! Follow me on Twitter and - Don't miss a legal thing!


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