Lots of people dislike twitter, some even hate it. Today, when asked about Twitter, I heard someone in the office say “the thought of it makes me want to die.” While a touch excessive, this sentiment is not that uncommon.
As someone who is fascinated by the possibilities for communication that has gradually evolved as people learn to use Twitter I do find this somewhat perplexing.
One of the complaints I often hear directed at Twitter is that basically it is boring. They have this notion that it’s populated by people who like to talk about themselves all the time, incessantly sharing the vacuous details of their lives, and they’re just not that interested in people taking about what they had for lunch.
This I think is a common misunderstanding. Personally I have found that Twitter, unlike many other social mediums, is defined by the quality and relevance of the content being shared. The brevity it enforces through the character limit is one of the reasons that I love Twitter so much. People are just forced to get to the point, to think about what they say and to craft into something that is short and easy to consume.
Another complaint I often hear is that people often say that they don’t have the time. While it is true that organisations that decide to use this platform do need to invest time to build a community (and I certainly believe that investment to be worthwhile) there are lots of ways in which Twitter can be used, and you don’t necessarily have to be an active participant in the conversations taking place all the time.
There is definitely value in following people that interest you and using Twitter as a media channel to discover interesting information and connect with what people are experiencing as it happens, and if you feel that something interests you why not reply, or comment on what is being discussed and later, as you begin to see what is possible, maybe you might feel that you have something you want to share. The more you use Twitter the more you will come to understand how this network might transform what you do and perhaps begin to believe that it is worth the time you invest in it.
I think that while there are some merits the reasons people give for not using Twitter that much of this comes from a misunderstanding of what Twitter is, how it can be used and the way it is shaping culture and society in sometimes quite radical ways. I do not think it is too excessive to say that on occasion Twitter has been able to transform lives and after you have read this blog I think you will come to see not just the possibilities that Twitter has allowed, but the sometimes astounding acts of the people that use these tools.
How Twitter Saved My Life
Twitter saved a Joburg man who was trapped in his car boot after being hijacked while driving through Honeydew on the way to Florida. They forced him into the boot of the car and sped off. But they forgot one thing: his mobile phone.
As the car sped off he sent an SMS to his girlfriend who sent a tweet asking for help. A local man with more than 100,000 followers, retweeted her alert and helped connect her to private security forces in the area. Working together in real-time on Twitter, they managed to track the cell signal from the trunk of the car and inform local police.
How a tweet brought freedom
James Karl Buck helped free himself from an Egyptian jail with a tweet from his cell phone. The police arrested the American journalism student while he was reporting on worker protests in Al-Mahalla Al-Kobra, a city in the Nile Delta region north of Cairo. En route to the police station, Buck pulled out his phone and sent a message to his friends and contacts using Twitter. The message only had one word. “Arrested.”
— James Buck (@jamesbuck) April 10, 2008
Over the course of a few hours, he sent updates about his situation via Twitter, which were then picked up and passed on to other audiences by Egyptian bloggers. That, in turn, attracted the attention of mainstream journalists, and probably helped secure Buck’s release. “The most important thing on my mind was to let someone know where we were so that there would be some record of it … so we couldn’t [disappear],” Buck said. “As long as someone knew where we were, I felt like they couldn’t do their worst [to us] because someone, at some point, would be checking in on them.”
Afterwards, Buck used Twitter to publicize the detention of his translator, Mohammed Maree, who was also eventually released, albeit three months later. At the time, Twitter co-founder Biz Stone called Buck’s story compelling, noting that it “highlights the simplicity and value of a real-time communication network that follows you wherever you go.”
During infectious disease outbreaks, data collected through health institutions and official reporting structures may not be available for weeks, hindering early epidemiologic assessment. By contrast, data from social media provides real-time information that could provide earlier estimates of epidemic dynamics.
After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake researchers affiliated with Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital used Twitter to forecast a cholera outbreak in Haiti two weeks before health officials in the country reported the epidemic With the nation’s already unsteady infrastructure destroyed, Twitter helped speed the deployment of people and supplies to where they were needed by giving relief workers on-the-ground intelligence about what was happening, what was needed and where in nearly real time. What are the implications for crowdsourced crisis maps and disaster response?
Predicting Behaviour With Tweets
Behavioral economics tells us that emotions can profoundly affect individual behavior and decision-making. Even so Johan Bollen, a computational social scientist at the University of Indiana, was surprised when he discovered that Twitter can predict the stock market. “We were pretty astonished that this actually worked,” he said.
A basic premise of behavioral economics is that the markets aren’t perfectly rational machines, but are expressions of human emotions like greed and fear. If you agree with that premise, and are looking for an immediate gauge of those human sentiments, then Twitter is one of the greatest tools ever invented. It is possible that the stream of thought that is represented on Twitter is representative of the mental state of humankind at any instant, and that if we are able to properly interpret the resulting data we might be able to predict human behaviour.
Crowdsourcing & Citizen Journalists
Social media has become an essential component to sourcing information. With a single tweet, you can reach out to potentially thousands of people through the right combination of hashtags, or you can connect directly with someone by simply mentioning them. And they, in turn, can do the same for you and your campaign. Through this type of crowdsourcing organizations are able to reach a wider audience faster and more efficiently than ever before, shaping and evolving journalism, and providing a faster and more interactive news and information source.
After the horrific bombings at the Boston Marathon, the city’s Police Department sent out a tweets requesting amateur video footage. The FBI also asked for public assistance in an attempt to crowd source its data required for a “thorough investigation.” In an attempt at leaving no stone unturned, law enforcement has been looking to the internet community for help.
Bringing Transparency & Freedom
As demonstrated by the countries affected by the Arab Spring social media has been one of many important tools used by people to organise protests and bring about change.Twitter has been one of many important tools used by people to affect change, providing activists with an opportunity to circumvent traditional media and share events globally making it difficult for authorities to control how the public views events.
— AnonOps (@anonops) September 17, 2011
In the wake of the UK riots this August, Dan Thompson, Sophie Collard and Sam Duckworth wanted to help clean up their neighborhoods, but knew they couldn’t do it alone. They joined together to organize around hashtags, to find volunteers and to coordinate efforts. The idea quickly took hold as people around the UK were eager to help rebuild their communities.
“There are now people on the ground all across London,” Thompson said in the Guardian Newspaper. “Even just putting on some gloves, picking up a dustpan and brush, and clearing one broken window on the way into work. People are saying, ‘We’re Londoners, we’re resilient, and getting on with it.’”