Twitter gives its users a platform to broadcast, to promote, and to converse. Melanie Coulson tells us how one journalist used it to help Canadians remember the history of our fallen soldiers. This post was originally published on Coulson's blog, Journomel.com

Twitter gives its users a platform to broadcast, to promote, and to converse. Melanie Coulson tells us how one journalist used it to help Canadians remember the history of our fallen soldiers. This post was originally published on Coulson's blog, Journomel.com

Twitter gives its users a platform to broadcast, to promote, and to converse.

On Wednesday, Twitter gave our hundreds of thousands of war dead a voice.

Using @wearethedead, the numbers became names.

Glen McGregor, the Ottawa Citizen‘s National Affairs reporter and data journalism extraordinaire (he’d hate this, but it doesn’t go far enough to describe the projects he’s led) obtained a dataset through a Freedom of Information request to Veterans Affairs Canada.

Eventually, he got a list of names, ranks, and dates of birth of Canada’s fallen soldiers from the first World War to our present mission in Afghanistan. 

He goes into more detail about the project on his blog, A Few Tasteful Snaps.

Glen got information on more than 119,000 men and women who have died for our country.

His goal was to give these soldiers an identity, so he set up a Twitterfeed that would Tweet a soldier’s name, rank, and date of death 11 minutes past the hour, every hour.

This Twitterfeed won’t be done going through the list until 2025.

(Some of us wondered whether Twitter might still be around at the conclusion of this Twitterfeed in 2025. Glen has pledged to write a profile piece on the last soldier Tweeted.)

And so, at 11.11 today, @wearethedead Tweeted this:

Pvt. Bernard Leonard Mcfadden (Essex Scottish Regiment, R.C.I.C.). Aug. 27, 1944.

Glen reTweeted to show its importance:

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First name of 119,531 RT @WeAreTheDead: Pvt. Bernard Leonard Mcfadden (Essex Scottish Regiment, R.C.I.C.). Aug. 27, 1944.

The response was immediate:

@dougrutherford: @glen_mcgregor @WeAreTheDead An excellent project. Thanks.

@laura_payton: #follow Wednesday: @WeAreTheDead – tweeting the names of every Cdn Forces member killed in the line of duty

@kemptvillebiz: We Are The Dead, a Tribute to those who sacrificed their lives so the many back home in Canada would live FREE. @WeAreTheDead

@jillalice: Everyone should follow @WeAreTheDead. They’re recounting the names of Cdn Forces killed in the line of duty, 1/hr @ 11 min past the hr.

@alaynawright: @WeAreTheDead – Great use of Twitter to remember those who gave their lives for Canada.
t.co/9PthTMhG

@treetoplane: Follow WeAreTheDead. Great tribute!

Indeed, what Glen did was more than a cool new way to tell a story with data and social media. And it’s what we as journalists strive to do every day: be a part of something bigger – tell a story that needs to be told.

When the Twitterfeed pumped out Lance Corporal Armstrong’s name, there was an immediate response.

@wearethedead: Lance Corporal Wellington Astelford Armstrong (Canadian Infantry – Quebec Regiment). Aug. 15, 1917. Age: 19

@Mike_Edmonton: Encourage followers to follow @WeAreTheDead , a tribute to Canada’s war dead. Sobering to be reminded of 19 yr olds who paid ultimate price.

Two days before Remembrance Day, In 140 characters, he has reminded us that behind the numbers, these soldiers were people.

Melanie Coulson is the Senior Editor, Online at ottawacitizen.com and teaches a reporting course at Carleton University's School of Journalism. She is one of the founding members of Hacks/Hackers Ottawa and writes about social media, gamification, data journalism and growing up digital on her blog, journomel.com