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Social Media

A key domain in which Twitter is becoming important is in shaping the two-way relationship of television and social media. Specifically, live tweeting during television watching is shaping live media experiences in general. And, we are increasingly tweeting to the events of our lives (from news events to concerts). Twitter currently fills an important gap in social media which goes beyond information exchange to making entertainment and other events more socially experienced.

Dick Costolo has made clear that Twitter’s growth model is not focused on specific user growth targets, but rather is about building higher levels of engagement with the platform. What Twitter has is a global presence and household name recognition. But its problem is that perhaps the structure and form of the medium both put people off of joining or make it hard for them to be active. This has led to the trend of Twitter geeks who tweet often and don’t think twice about @-mentions. Your average person may just see the @ and shy away from a perceived wall of geek-based syntax. I think this last challenge is major, but one that is surmountable through creative, easy-to-use interfaces and other innovations and can lead to a new phase for Twitter and our engagements with it.

Television watching has always been a social process (e.g. a family gathering around the TV or colleagues at work talking about a show from the night before). However, the types of social interaction now possible with social media have changed how we watch TV. Specifically, new forms of ‘social TV viewing’ have produced conversations between TV watchers who are not geographically co-located and may or may not even be watching the TV show at the same time. This is a major change in the form and reach of the social side of TV watching.

Estimates have placed around 40% of evening tweets as television-related. Last year, Twitter Amplify, a TV ad targeting system was launched in the US. Twitter’s ad buy remains small in comparison to Facebook, but Amplify and similar products may provide new ways to market video advertising and, importantly, data analytics regarding engagement with a brand’s TV ads. The success of this is partially premised on the fact that users tweeting about a TV show are assumed to have watched the TV program the ad ran against. There are, of course, some limitations with this approach. However, an ad by Heineken during the US open men’s finals in September 2013 was promoted via Amplify and saw about 18,000 views, retweets, and comments. I think there is definitely potential for Twitter to better these relatively new products and further capitalize on social TV viewing, especially as it expands its social TV products outside of US markets.

Twitter’s social TV products like Amplify are still very young (Amplify was launched last year). Amplify is completely oriented to just the US market right now. However, social television watching has become a global trend. So, Twitter has totally new ad markets to tap into. Additionally, user engagement in terms of social TV watching is still very simple and organized around noisy hashtag-oriented engagement which is not always easy from a smart phone or tablet.

I think creative aggregation tools to distill the complex discourses emerging from social TV (and beyond) are completely lacking and Twitter has this and many other potential product avenues to not only spread its market reach, but greatly increase its user engagement (both of which affect revenue and profits). After all, Twitter is (currently) cash rich and could spend some real effort on helping users navigate through the sometimes tidal deluge that is a Twitter timeline.

I am not arguing that Twitter can or will deliver a mass audience on the scale of Facebook. Indeed, I think Twitter’s real promise is in distinction to Facebook in the sense of being a tool for public discourse rather than the more bounded friend networks of Facebook (which also have value of course). In my opinion, Twitter’s success is dependent on not deviating from its attractiveness to users, but creatively taking on user experience challenges.

I think our current experience of social television watching via Twitter is quite primitive. I think users want to spend more time on Twitter and further interact with not just television, but media content more generally. For example, I think people want a more immersive social TV experience which includes the ability to watch content within Twitter and tweet in reference to a particular scene (or even drawing a circle around a part of the frame) and this rich context is embedded within the tweet. Users want to engage at these more sophisticated levels and Twitter just doesn’t have the power to do this yet. In terms of ads, these much higher levels of detail could lead to much more relevant ad delivery (like pushing information about the Nike Air Jordan XX9 if an actor is wearing the shoe and it has been tagged in a tweet). More advanced machine-learning driven data backends could enrich this process even further.

Importantly, these features could also play a role in bettering Twitter’s role in global civil society and keep Twitter in the public limelight for years to come. Visual interfaces don’t just have utility for social TV watching but could be used in social activism and disaster recovery for example.

Parts of this article were published as part of a moderated debate in The Wall Street Journal.

When we think of 10th birthdays, we think of youth and the cusp of tweenhood. But Facebook at 10, like many technology companies, is seen by some as an octogenarian. Social media technologies like the ephemeral snapchat are seen as nubile and exciting while Facebook is seen as part of an old guard status quo. Whether one loves or hates Facebook, the medium has become part of everyday life for many across the world. It has developed a gargantuan user base of 1.23 billion (passing 1 billion in 2012‎ and nearly a billion active mobile users). And one third of US adults get their news from Facebook. To say you are ‘Facebook friends’ with someone is an understood relationship. In other words, Facebook is part of many everyday lives.

 

Ultimately, Facebook has tremendous influence on what content is being consumed on the Internet. For example, the virality of the controversial Kony 2012 video, which sought to bring to justice the internationally wanted Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony, was influenced strongly by sharing of the video amongst Facebook friends. Friends kept seeing the Kony video on their feed and decided to view it. Many then posted the video as a status update and changed their photo to a Kony 2012 banner.

 

Though Facebook has grown rapidly, there are also segments of backlash, ‘Facebook fatigue’, against the pervasiveness of Facebook as illustrated by movements such as the 2010 ‘Quit Facebook Day’. Survey research found that 23% of American teens pulled in 2013 found Facebook to be the most important social site to them, a figure down from 42% in 2012. Some fear that ‘Facebooking’ may be affecting the interaction of co-present individuals in that they may place priority on Facebooking the moment rather than ‘living’ in it. Facebook has also been criticized for the ease of its use in cyber-bullying and its circulation of controversial videos (including beheading videos).

 

But as Facebook’s techno-dog years pile on, there is a serious question here about the future of Facebook. Some think it is too big for its own good and is destined the way of defunct social networks like Myspace. For example, a recent article in Time by Sam Frizell (@Sam_Frizell) drew attention to a paper by Cannarella and Spechler which uses disease models to infer, “the future suggests that Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80% of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.”

 

Though Facebook’s user base could decline rapidly in the coming years, I find predicting social technology use by epidemiological models problematic. Though some may see Facebook use as akin to a disease, it is after all a communications technology. Mobile telephone and e-mail use continues to grow. And as we become more networked, our desire to interact on online social networks is more akin to e-mail adoption than disease models. I think the real question here is more an economic one. Myspace died out as Facebook aggressively took over its market share. Whether Facebook’s market share will erode after it turns 10 is better served by economic models which take into account complex market dynamics.

 

Though its future is uncertain, its last ten years have seen Facebook become part of the fabric of our daily social communication. Facebook has also been in the international spotlight and been important to various sociopolitical movements. For example, the ‘We Are All Khaled Said’ group was prominently used in the Arab spring in Egypt in 2011. Communications technologies evolve and adopt to our social needs. As society has become more mobile, we have moved from landlines to mobile telephones and e-mail. Also, technology can and does become replaced. My view is that if Facebook goes the way of Myspace, another online social network technology would fill the void as we live in a global networked society where we now expect to connect with friends, colleagues, world news, and family in integrated multimedia social networks like Facebook (and Myspace and Friendster before it). So if Facebook does die off in the next five years, its effects on social communication will be felt for many years to come.

A newer version of this article was published in The Conversation.

I have published about Twitter and cancer in my book as well as in articles. However, it is not every day that the topic itself reaches global media coverage. Cancer is a disease which continues to be surrounded by taboos and its coverage is often about novel research or innovative treatment modalities. While we understand more and more about cancer, media coverage generally does not focus on the disease and Twitter. Enter Lisa Bonchek Adams (@adamslisa), a breast cancer patient whose cancer has spread to her bones and mother of three from Connecticut.

 

She has tweeted over 165,000 times (with many of those about her own cancer experience). She tweets about her current state (e.g. on January 4: ‘Very rough day here. Dizziness, weakness, pain. Need the tumors to shrink for relief. That will take time: chemo and radiation.’) and about media coverage of cancer (e.g. on December 30: ‘Articles about “defiant patients” who “refuse” to accept prognoses continue to reinforce the BS that attitude determines long term survival.’) for example. As I discuss in my book, there are many cancer patients, survivors and their family members who use Twitter to find out about treatments, side effects, or as a place of support. In other words, what Lisa Bonchek Adams is part of a much larger trend of cancer patients using Twitter.

 

However, Emma Gilbey Keller a US-based columnist for The Guardian took offense to Adams’ tweets and wrote a column (since removed by The Guardian) which argues that @adamslisa is sharing too much on Twitter and even goes so far as to say she is ‘dying out loud’. Emma Gilbey Keller wrote in the column, “Should there be boundaries in this kind of experience? Is there such a thing as TMI [too much information]?”. My work on social media clearly indicates that social media has shifted the boundaries of public and private and what is considered TMI now versus pre-Facebook and Twitter has changed quite a bit. Therefore, Keller’s argument seems out of context and disconnected with the Twitter Age we live in. Indeed Emma Gilbey Keller’s unsympathetic comment of “dying out loud” [“She’s in terrible pain. She knows there is no cure, and she wants you to know all about what she is going through. Adams is dying out loud.”] misses the larger social context here, which is that we do quite a lot of things “out loud” on social media from announcing what we had for breakfast to how we are having a fight with a best friend.  Ditto for births, deaths, and cancer diagnoses.

 

Bill Keller (Emma Gilbey Keller’s husband and former executive editor of the New York Times) weighed in via a column in the New York Times where he argues along the same vein as his wife, but went a step further, adding that she should die quietly rather than loudly on Twitter. Social media has been ablaze with angry responses from cancer patients, survivors, their family, and the general public. Besides his harsh condemnation of Adams, Bill Keller also makes an unnatural distinction between the online and offline worlds, emphasizing her writing as ‘tweeting’ rather than as an important form of publishing. And, there are many patients of terminal or other serious illnesses who publish and journalists don’t write about them ‘dying loudly’. This is a critical distinction as online writing is no less ‘real’ than the printed word, indeed broadsheet ink has become the minority today anyways! Moreover, publishing on Twitter is not intended by most Twitter users as broadcast to a wide audience. Rather, many use it as a form of diary writing or a means to broadcast to their specific, usually small audience of followers. Doctors often ask cancer patients to reflect on their experience to better their psychological health and some patients find Twitter to be an ideal outlet for this.

 

One of the values of Twitter and other social media is that they have been found to help patients of terminal and other major illnesses stay socially connected, whereas many often become socially isolated. Or as one study puts it:, social media “may help promote patient happiness and safety and serve as an educational platform.”. This has real benefits for health. Because cancer patients on Twitter do not usually have the goal of reaching large audiences on Twitter, but rather often use the medium as a diary or to form small support networks, they are often not trying to deliver a specific normative message. Or as @adamslisa tweets: “Why is she tweeting if it hurts so much?” I am sure people ask. It helps to distract me especially when I am alone (it’s 6 AM here).” This distraction through publishing on Twitter is something many cancer patients who tweet feel and there is research to support a net health benefit.

 

Though social media can have medical disinformation and is not always a good thing for all cancer patients, this is not a decision for the Kellers’ to make. Rather, it is a case for individual cancer patients and survivors.

 

To hear more of my take on Twitter and Cancer, you can listen to me on the BBC World Service.

The role of social media in activist movements is a regular staple of news media. Just recently, political activism in Ukraine over the issue of whether Ukraine should join the European Union has been discussed across several hashtags on Twitter. As the Ukranian state cracked down on protests in Independence square in Kiev, I have been reflecting on the role of Twitter in recent social and political movements. I recently spoke on the BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed about the role of Twitter in social movements and the BBC World Service’s Have Your Say regarding the cases of Ukraine and Thailand more specifically.

More close to home, the UCU, UNISON, and UNITE are striking over fair pay in higher education. And, though much more localized in comparison to Ukraine and Thailand, Twitter is being used (via #fairpayinhe) to coordinate real-time discussion during the strike action. Des Freedman asked me to blog about Twitter and activism as he is staging a ‘teach-out’ (#goldteachout) today during the strike action and wanted to include some material on social media and movements. This blog post attempts to highlight the complex and nuanced role social media plays in contemporary activism using the case of recent events in Ukraine to provide a context.

In Ukraine over the weekend, the #Euromaidan hashtag (and, to a lesser extent, #Ukraine) has been used as venue for both citizen journalism and to circulate news regarding the Ukranian protests against President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to scrap an EU accession deal. Tweets were not restricted to citizen journalists, but included lawmakers as well. For example, Andriy Shevchenko, opposition Ukranian lawmaker, tweeted: “The Maidan has been brutally mopped up,” referring to the government’s violent dispersal of Independence Square in Kiev. On a more micro-level, various social media has been used to circulate firsthand accounts of Independence Square (via YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter).

@ivanbandura TwitPic in Kiev

@ivanbandura TwitPic in Kiev

For example, the Twitter user Ivan Bandura (@ivanbandura), acting as a citizen journalist, tweeted from Kiev: ‘Despite the cold and rain tonight, people still came to protest Ukraine government’s snub to EU #euromaidan pic.twitter.com/G50TX5n0G1’

The violent disbursal by the Berkut (Ukrainian special forces) incensed young Ukranians in Independence Square who turned to Twitter and other ubiquitous social media to report their version of what took place on the ground. As news reports indicate, many of the protesters in Kiev were armed with smart phones. In the case of the Arab Spring, many of the #egypt tweets, for example, were being produced outside of the Middle East. The case of the Ukraine may be the same (with empirical study needed to confirm or discern differences). However, there is a prima facie indication of greater citizen perspectives rather than a glut of celebrity retweets as the tweet below highlights:

“I will get cold or sick, or even die in Kyiv, but I will go [there]! Because otherwise my consciousness would not allow me to live here if everything works out #євромайдан” (from @neksichka via globalvoicesonline)

The Kyiv Post headlined: ‘Role of social media in EuroMaidan movement essential‘, arguing that ‘unlike the Orange revoultion’, Twitter and Facebook were central to EuroMaidan. They report that the frequency of tweets from November 21-28th ranged from 1,500-3,000 (which is not insignificant). Though prima facie, this seems important, it is not the raw frequency that is important as many of these tweets could be retweets of news stories (again, empirical work would be needed to discern this). What did definitively happen is that social media use went up during EuroMaidan. My argument here is not of a Twitter revolution, but that we tweet during activist movements (I found the same during natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and the Tōhoku earthquake in Japan).

Any technology that is around/cost-effective/efficient will be used during activist movements. This was true of cassette tapes and photocopies in the 1970’s in Iran and social media today. In other words, the difference is that we now have social technologies that are exponentially more advanced and have far greater reach than older technologies such as faxes or cassette tapes. However, the inherent utility of technology to social activism has not changed in principle. Rather, social media are technologies and just that. Reifying them is dangerous. Rather, social media are used to facilitate activism around issues that have bred sufficient sociopolitical discontent ex-ante (i.e. the discontent is not fomented by the technology per se but rather social technologies are used to inform and rally). In other words, people have been feeling the social issues around them in their everyday lived experience. Social media technologies provide ubiquitous modes of broadcast that can help individuals join global discursive collectives to express those feelings during and after a movement to a wider audience that would not be possible in a localized space. A big difference is also that actors on the ground who are not professional journalists can broadcast their views and experience. Most likely their voice will be blurred into a hashtag – which is not ineffective – and exceptional tweets can be picked up by major news media and circulated to a wide, global audience. Though, it is the exception rather than the rule for tweets to garner a global audience. This highlights a very important point: the efficacy of social media is often dependent on the fact journalists are active on social media and see social media as an integral part of their source mix. Because of this link, social media is important to a movement’s strength on the ‘media battleground’ of winning hearts and minds, an argument made by the Wall Street Journal reporting in Thailand.

As I sit in a cafe writing this, there are three students at a table across from me (one American and one British and one French). I can’t help but overhear as they are talking about the HE strikes. The American says ‘it’s such a British thing to strike’. The British student retorts saying strikes are a very European thing and the French student concurs. It strikes me [pun intended] that it is just this type of discourse which takes place on Twitter during many protests. In other words, perhaps we should be thinking of Twitter as providing a massive public sphere during an activist movement. And like any public space, certain interlocutors have power and  influence over others and certain conversations stay micro (like the cafe chat I am eavesdropping on). But unlike the cafe chat, any Twitter conversation can be lifted from obscurity as it is a public medium (and the interlocutors may not even want their tweets to leave the realm of obscurity).

Ultimately, we need to ask whether tweets lead individuals or collectives of protesters, in the case of Thailand for example, to seize government buildings and offices, actions which placed them in direct danger. What I mean is that there must be a compelling motive to bring people to the streets and it is usually not a tweet. In the case of the HE strikes, it is years of unhappiness over low pay that rallied the unions and HE staff to strike (twice). Twitter and other social media can help circulate news and information real time from citizen journalists and journalists alike, but social media are not usually instrumental in breeding the discontent.

Yesterday, JL Johnson @jaeljohnson was teaching my Twitter book to his Sociology 101 class at George Mason University. He asked his class to summarize my Twitter book in less than 140 characters.

@jaeljohnson tweeted: “Limitless comm in digi era&brevity reigns @dhirajmurthy asks good/bad? Look @ history 4 connections w/past tech says +info -depth #sociology”

When he and some of his students tweeted at me regarding this assignment, it reminded me of the many occasions I have been asked to summarize my book into a tweet. A former colleague of mine, Brian Purnell, asked me to do this during a filmed discussion (on YouTube) we had about my book. The best I could come up with on the spot, at the time was ‘I tweet therefore I am’, a reference to a chapter in my book which plays on the famous Cartesian aphorism. But, I quickly backtracked (as I do in my book) saying that Twitter does not follow the strict, reductive Cartesian dualism (separating mind and body), but rather is a part of modern social communication for many of us. What I mean by this is that Twitter is highly socially embedded for many users and any strict dualism is highly problematic. I ended up in my response to Professor Purnell [around 1:13 on the YouTube video] with the answer: ‘I am social therefore, I tweet’. This ties in with the larger argument in my book that Twitter is part of complex social relations and we tweet for a multitude of  sociopolitical reasons, which span from updating our followers to what we just ate to a cancer diagnosis or, more criminally, to hitting a cyclist (with that tweet leading to the Tweeter getting arrested).

I’m glad to hear my book went down well in @jaeljohnson’s sociology 101 class! I thought that the class’ tweet was insightful in teasing out some of the key aspects of my book, including its commitment to historicizing Twitter.

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”

Please cite this as: Murthy, D. (2013), “’Hate-watching’ and Twitter”, iSociology,  http://www.dhirajmurthy.com/hate-watching-and-twitter

In my Twitter research, I have been exploring ‘social television watching’. There are two key points which come to mind regarding how the rise of social media has impacted our approach to television-viewing generally. First, scholarship on television has seen TV viewing as ‘parasocial’, an unbalanced relationship where television viewers feel ‘intimacy at a distance’ with celebrity actors (MR Levy 1979). In other words, TV viewers perceive an intimate relationship, where they have the illusion that they ‘know’ the celebrity on screen; however, the celebrity knows nothing of the television watcher. The promise, or at least perception, of social media such as Twitter is that this parasociality may be broken down or challenged one @-mention at a time by the likes of Ashton Kutcher. So the impact here is a perceived decrease of parasociality (a decrease in the traditional gap between television viewer and celebrity on the screen).

Additionally, social media, by encouraging television audience members to be quite active, tweeting under #thefollowing or #dexter can form engaged public audiences, which include both fans who know each other and fans who do not. This social TV watching is powered by social media use via mobile smartphones and laptops. Interestingly, an argument can be made that this increases our sociability while engaging in an activity which many have viewed as becoming less and less social (in juxtaposition to historical TV watching as a family or other group).

Hate-watching has been a part of television since its inception. It’s not that Twitter and other social media encourage hate watching per se, but that social media make it easier to publicly hate-watch. In other words, shows like Single Ladies or Toddlers & Tiaras would have had hate-watchers with or without social media. It is not only the publicness of hate watching that has changed, but also that it is real time, global, and not limited to one’s living room or to a single telephone call. What social media does is enable a ‘networked public’ (see ‘Networked’ by Barry Wellman) to hate-watch together. Additionally, after Emily Nussbaum’s 2012 New Yorker piece, ‘Hate-Watching “Smash”‘, Twitter has seen many incidents of people tweeting under #hatewatching and similar hash tags shows that are the top of their hate-watch list. Twitter can ultimately egg people on to hate watch (especially during the network broadcast of a show or in the immediate days after the show is aired).

As mentioned above, social media creates new social communities and formations. Often, these are focused around particular events (something I discuss in my book). In the case of television, these events are particular TV shows. Events encourage social responses. My view is that hate-watching is not more popular today per se. Rather, it is the way in which we hate-watch that has changed. Melrose Place in the 90s comes to mind here! Though by no means the same as hate-watching, the best term to describe similar historical processes of this type of television watching is ‘guilty pleasure’. An Associated Press article in 2002 refers to Jerry Springer shows in this vein.

What is different, and why we may perceive hate-watching to be more popular today, is that Twitter makes it very easy to publicly broadcast your hate-watching. Not only that, but the social engagement of rapid @-mentions between hate-watchers leads us to think it is on the rise. Not only is it very public and in your face now, but it is highly networked, real-time, and global.

[This post should be cited when referenced and not reproduced without prior permission]

I teach an undergraduate Social Media class. As a sociology class, the class explores issues of privacy, the public and private (jokingly referred to as the ‘theme of the semester’ by my students), technological determinism, and power/influence. In today’s class, we discussed celebrity culture on Twitter. In my forthcoming book about Twitter, I argue that Twitter’s ease of use to connect to people is one reason for its popularity. My class has been interested in how much this applies to ‘connecting with’ celebrities. To explore this question ’empirically’, my class sent a total of 57 tweets to ‘celebrities’ (defined very broadly as ‘famous people’). Some examples of tweets they sent were:

  •  @ellenDegeneres_ So proud to share my name with such an amazing person. #ellenssticktogether #yougogirl
  • @ryanlochte I’ve heard rumors you’re doing a workout video for swimmers…is that true?
  • Gonna wear my @jermaineoneal Eau Claire jersey tomorrow. Let’s Get It SUNS!
  • @JLo where did you get your sideway cross necklace?

Within five minutes, one student received a retweet and, within an hour, one received an @ mention

The retweet:

  • @RosaAcosta love your youtube workouts.. they are so effective and great to follow

The @ mention:

  1. STUDENT: @OliverPhelps We’re looking at whether or not Twitter connects us with celebs. Help me out? 😉
  2. @OliverPhelps@STUDENT yes it does
  3. STUDENT: […] verdict by @OliverPhelps: Twitter can indeed connect you with celebs. Thanks a bunch, Oliver. 🙂
[NB Oliver Phelps = George Weasley in the Harry Potter films] 

Their conclusion was that having a 2 in 57 chance of being ‘noticed’/’interacting’ with a celebrity was not only noteworthy, but provided a leg to stand on in terms of Twitter’s ability to connect ‘normal’ people with influential people on Twitter.

One interesting discussion which emerged from this exercise was whether the tone/content of these tweets was an independent variable which we should be considering in our analysis. My students then posted more ‘cerebral’ tweets to the same genre of celebrity they had initially tweeted to (e.g. now a tweet to Kanye when previously one was sent to 50 Cent). Some examples of tweets they sent were:

  • For what do fictional worlds serve? @jk_rowling
  • @ladygaga what are your views on gay marriage?
  • @MicheleBachmann what will you be doing to encourage people to get out and vote this Tuesday? #election #MN
  • @Eminem Have you been watching the debates? Any thoughts on the two candidate’s views on economy?

Within a minute of the student who had tweeted Lady Gaga about gay marriage, Lady Gaga tweeted a link to a blog post titled ‘#VOTE2013 #OBAMA Romney’s on drugs.

My students found it interesting, but completely unsurprising, that their initial tweets tended to be more ‘banal’ and that they actually had to be ‘forced’ to tweet more ‘intellectual’ ones. Of course, I was not passing a normative value on either genre of tweets. Rather, part of the exercise was for my students to reflect on forms of talk in Twitter (they have read a lot of Goffman!). My students seemed surprised by the fact they received some responses. If others out there have done similar exercises with their classes, please post a comment!