Selected quotes from Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age

This week, I have been invited to be a guest on Laurie Taylor’s BBC Radio 4 Program Thinking Allowed to talk about my book, Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age (Polity Press). The BBC has kindly linked to my blog and I thought I would blog some quotes from the book that can both serve as talking points, but also a way in which to stimulate critical discussion of Twitter (via my blog’s comment space at the bottom of the page).  Twitter is at a particularly formative time as the company is gearing up for a initial public offering on the NASDAQ of ~ $20 billion. I look forward to comments as well as tweets directed to @dhirajmurthy.

Selected quotes from Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age (Polity Press):

“…like a radio, a user’s Twitter timeline could be playing in the background and if the user becomes interested in a particular story, Twitter moves from the ambient periphery to the active center”

“The ability to tweet and post YouTube videos of your “disaster experience” has the potential for normally marginalized individuals and groups to update the world about their situation”

“Hashtag categories illustrate the ability of Twitter to be both an individual and communal news space simultaneously”

“Twitter is not displacing traditional media… [and] news organizations have found the medium useful in their coverage of breaking news”

“Phantom’ Twitter accounts…post banal information with a trending hashtag to dilute activist hashtags”

“Twitter and Facebook… lend themselves to being used by authorities to ‘spy’ on activists”

“‘Citizen-journalists,’ non-professional journalists, are taking pictures from their smartphones and embedding them in tweets, and this material has now become part of some journalists’ source mix.”

“much of the talk on Twitter is monological, or just never listened to or responded to”

“it is impossible to monitor the integrity of information on Twitter”

“Twitter’s citizen journalism is not exempt from the hierarchies endemic in traditional media industries. Rather, new forms of elitism are emerging”

“tweets regarding breaking news, disasters, and public health epidemics can be misleading, incorrect, or even fraudulent”

”Tweets are analagous to bees in that they exist both as individuals and as part of a collectively built whole”

“Twitter in some ways has redefined existing cultural practices such as diary keeping, news consumption, and job searching”

“Twitter works…because [you] stop thinking about what you’re revealing and who’s on the other end.”

“Twitter has not determined social sharing across great distances, but has facilitated already emergent shifts in social behaviors.”

“If a tweet is retweeted often enough or by the right person(s), it gathers momentum that can emulate a snowball effect”

“Twitter enables users to wear two hats of producer and consumer.”

“even if the audience is not “obvious or apparent,” that does not translate to an absence of an audience with tweets disappearing into the ether”

3 comments
  1. Wale Azeez said:

    Hi Dhiraj,
    Really enjoyed your turn on BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed this afternoon.

    I quite liked the point you made about the false idea of the Twitter/Facebook ‘revolution’.

    I had a personal confrontation with that fallacy during fieldwork in Tahrir Square for my MSc in Digital Anthropology in 2011, where it was clear that those with the digital communications technologies were: (a) firmly in the minority and (b) ‘talking’ to each other, pretty much, and not the majority hinterland of poor and uneducated Egyptians who required good old-fashioned leafleting and face-to-face persuasion in order to rally to the anti-Mubarak cause.

    In some cases (certainly in Cairo), taxi drivers, and Egyptian pound notes (scrawled with details of protest locations) acted as the vessels of social media, through which the messages of dissent were disseminated.

    Interactions between the servant classes and their upper-middle class employers (who had the time, energy and inclination to hang out regularly in Tahrir Square) also helped push the message to the hinterlands. So it was as much a mobile phone ‘revolution’ (or more accurately – uprising) as it was a Twitter/ FB one.

    Also, the quote “Twitter and Facebook… lend themselves to being used by authorities to ‘spy’ on activists” from your book, chimes with the reality that many of the activists using social media tools – months and years before the eventual Jan 25th uprising – were regularly censured and barred by Facebook, Youtube, Flickr et al, for “breaching” user terms and conditions with the often stark material they were broadcasting (evidence of police brutality, etc).

    As such, a lot of the attempts by social media proponents to take credit for any ‘revolutionary’ impulse are disingenuous at best.

    Looking forward to reading your book!

  2. admin said:

    Dear Wale,

    Thank you very much for your comment. I appreciate your thoughtful reflection on my Radio 4 piece.

    Your MSc work sounds very interesting. Could you please send me a copy?

    Qualitative empirical work in the area of social media and activism is important to gathering an accurate picture of what is actually going on during social movements. It is all too tempting to get sucked into the zeitgeist of Twitter- and Facebook- revolutions and forget the social inequalities, stratification, and political discontent that foments revolutions.

    Do let me know what you think of my book once you read it.

    Best, Dhiraj

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