IT’S HARD TO believe that just over five years since the first ever tweet was sent the site has become so ubiquitous as to influence everything from Arab revolutions to politics to the X Factor and so much in between.
It would be a cliché to say that this was the year that Twitter came of age but there’s little doubt that it grew to influence areas of life we wouldn’t have expected it to do this time last year.
There are many examples that underline this, from Simon Cowell opening up X Factor USA to voting from Twitter users to here in Ireland where we had the infamous “game-changing” tweet during the last presidential debate that Seán Gallagher believes lost him the Áras.
In the case of the Arab Spring, the use of Twitter by protesters was at times overstated but there’s little doubt it and the likes of Facebook and YouTube played a part in the organisation of people who took to the streets calling for the fall of leaders in the likes of Tunisia and Egypt this year.
Social media did not directly cause these leaders to relinquish power but they were a tool that protesters used to organise themselves, to create the critical mass needed to force them from power.
In its own Year In Review section, Twitter has some interesting statistics which are worth a look. The event which inspired the most tweets per second was the MTV Video Music Awards. There’s also the story of the man who inadvertently live-tweeted the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden in May, which got the most tweets-per-minute ever - until Japan’s women won the World Cup.
But aside from those events, we’ve selected a few of the key hashtags from the past year that were trending both here in Ireland and around the world:
#Egypt (#Jan25, #Cairo, #Tahrir)
In Egypt like in other Arab countries Twitter was used to organise mass rallies against President Mubarak. As Fast Company magazine pointed out at the beginning of the Egyptian revolution, an early protest on 25 January or #Jan25 as it became known, was organised through Twitter. The magazine believes that “without them, fewer people might have shown up, and the Egyptian authorities might have more easily dispatched them.”
So concerned were authorities, at one stage they shut down Twitter and even the internet altogether in attempt to stem the flow of discontent that was taking hold of the Egyptian people. But it was not enough in the end to prevent the demise of Hosni Mubarak who resigned in February.
Interestingly, one of those involved in the tweeting or rather retweeting of information from the likes of Cairo was Andy Carvin who told the Guardian in September that although he had been on the ground in Egypt, it was from behind Tweetdeck – the power Twitter user’s app of choice – that he was able to gain a better understanding of what was going on. The sheer volume of information that was being disseminated on the #Egypt hashtag was crucial to this.
Along with Egypt, Charlie Sheen’s infamous #TigerBlood was one of the most popular hashtags on Twitter this year, according to the site itself. It all came about after Sheen, sacked from the hit show Two and A Half Men, embarked on a series of bizarre public ramblings including an interview where he said: “My fangs are dripping with tiger blood” and so a hashtag was born.
It took flight particularly after Sheen himself joined Twitter, amassing over a million followers within a day and coining the other popular hashtag #winning to denote success. It too spread quickly.
#Japan (#prayforjapan, #tsunami)
In the immediate aftermath of the massive earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan’s east cost in March, Twitter acted as a way of disseminating information. Not only were news agencies and reporters breaking the latest developments, people caught up in the nightmare were tweeting information in the hope that family and friends would pick up that they were alright.
As Computer World points out, with phones knocked out in parts of the country, social networks were the only lifeline for people to let their loved ones know they were okay. Twitter was reported to be experiencing 1,200 tweets being posted every minute concerning the events in the Pacific.
The hashtag of choice for those who took a keen interest in the most anticipated and closely watched Irish general election in many years. Our own analysis of Twitter sentiment found that Taoiseach Enda Kenny was by far and away the most talked about party leader with some 15,000 tweets relating to him being posted, although the sentiment erred on the slightly negative side.
The Knexsy analysis of #ge11 found that traffic on that hashtag peaked on election day while there was also plenty of interest in supplemental hashtags during debates such as #rtedeb and #vinb. The users who were retweeted the most included ourselves, RTÉ Elections, writer Colm Tobin, politico _MacRebel and Politics.ie.
#Riots (#UKriots, #LondonRiots, #LiverpoolRiots etc… )
Twitter was instrumental not in the organisation of the unrest which hit cities across England in August of this year but to the reporting of information from areas affected. It also played a crucial role in the organisation and mobilisation of the clean-up operation, a Guardian study found recently.
The paper, in conjunction with the London School of Economics, looked at 2.6 million riot-related tweets and dispelled the notion that Twitter was a tool used by rioters to organise chaos. In the individual cites hit by disturbances there were specific hashtags which were crucial to disseminating hyperlocal information on what was happening to people living in that area.
#Libya (#gaddafi, #tripoli)
Like each individual Arab Uprising, the hashtag #Libya was a general one used for providing updates on the latest events in the longest conflict in the region so far. Rebels saw social media tools as something to use to their advantage and journalists who embedded with them were tweeting information when they could. At one stage it was even revealed that NATO was using information from Twitter, correlating it with other intelligence to get a better of idea of where to launch its airstrikes.
When Muammar Gaddafi or #Gaddafi was captured, first news of it broke on Twitter before it was quickly followed by reports of his actual death. Before long pictures and then videos of the slain leader were penetrating this social network and others.
Was the outcome of this year’s presidential election changed by a tweet? It could probably be argued and Seán Gallagher, the defeated independent candidate, is doing just that in his complaint to the Broadcasting Authority. He argues that RTÉ’s reading out a tweet that was purported to be from Sinn Féin during the crucial last debate of a bruising campaign was fatally damaging to his Áras hopes.
But is Twitter’s influence on Irish political debate and specifically the presidential election overstated? The Sunday Business Post’s Adrian Weckler points out that just over 10,200 people discussed the election on Twitter during a seven-day period, a small number of tweets when you consider the wider electorate of millions.
Other notable hashtags from the year
#Hacking (#Hackgate) – the phone hacking scandal rumbles on and will do so for many years to come. When all is said and done might this one day be the most used hashtag on Twitter?
#Norway (#Oslo, #Utoya) – the awful events in Norway earlier this year first broke in the country’s capital #Oslo when a bomb went off near government buildings. Then alleged lone gunman Anders Behring Breivik travelled to the island of #Utoya and killed 60 participants at a political youth camp.
#Tunisia (#SidiBouzid) - Sidi Bouzid was the site of the first clashes of the Tunisian uprising in 2010 after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi. Soon demonstrations spread across Egypt and the revolution in Tunis and other cities saw president Ben Ali ousted at the beginning of the year.
#Wikileaks (#Cablegate #Assange) – the founder of the whistle-blowing organisation Julian Assange had an eventful year. First he was part of the dissemination of thousands of US cables causing a diplomatic uproar, then he became the story as Sweden sought to have him extradited to face sex crimes charges. The case continues.
#Syria -This could be the next big regime to fall and as with Egypt and Libya before it, we are getting first hand accounts of protests against Bashar Assad’s regime through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. One to watch closely in 2012.
#TwitterXmasSingle – This may well have been the first case of a charity Christmas single being organised entirely through Twitter. Brenda Drumm’s Saturday evening idea became a reality seven days later and the #TwitterXmasSingle, in aid of Holles Street Hospital, was born.
#SeanOBrienFacts – So imperious and impressive at the Rugby World Cup, Ireland found a new hero and a Twitter star was born with thousands of #seanobrienfacts revealed to the world. Who knew that Paul O’Connell wore Sean O’Brien pyjamas?