Amid the millions of tweets bouncing around Twitter this weekend, two important “events” were happening that help define the influence and future of the social network.
Friday marked the launch of Greenpeace’s 24-hour Twitter demonstration for the phase out of nuclear energy in Germany. Using the hashtag #erneuerbar, people were asked to tweet their support for the cause. Nearly 9,500 tweets were sent throughout the demo, suggesting the protest was a popular online event. The participation was most likely well-beyond 10,000 as many Twitter users could have followed the demo without writing anything. Greenpeace also set up a virtual headquarters though a designated website where visitors could get a visual image of the protest. Illustrated figures marched across the screen, each with a face made from a participating Twitter user’s profile picture. Various real-time tweets were displayed as the figures marched along the page.
The event reinforces the use of Twitter as a modern tool for organised social protest. Rather than stage an event where only some people could attend, the platform allows anyone to participate from anywhere in the world. It also creates its own media buzz rather than depending on outside media networks to pick up the story. The use of Twitter, and social media in general, as a tool to organise social movements is likely to continue growing and become commonplace.
Sometimes, however, social protests are more spontaneous, as evidenced by another type of Twitter protest that occurred over the weekend when the world saw Twitter users unite to protect a fellow user’s identity.
As of late, super injunctions have been popular subject for mainstream news outlets, due in large part to an unnamed footballer and his attempt to hide an extramarital affair. While the British media was unable to reveal his identity, someone, somewhere, tweeted it to the world. With the footballer threatening to sue Twitter to reveal the identity of who spilled the beans, Twitter users rallied together, spreading his name throughout the network and claiming themselves as the guilty party. By Monday morning, his name had been tweeted over 30,000 times, indicating an alliance among social network users to defend their freedom of speech on the site.
The implications of this could become serious as legal battles emerge to quash information coming out of Twitter. Recently a UK court case named social networks as included media within the frames of a super injunction. Countries are also quick to shut down social networks when trying to suppress information from leaking out. Protestors in the Egyptian riots and Iranian election can attest to that. Furthermore, the complete ban of the site in other countries, such as China, suggests that some are not comfortable with the reach and social impact the site has.
The future and freedoms of Twitter will no doubt grow and change over the years. As the website becomes more influential and as users begin to develop a keener understanding of the power of their presence, Twitter could change the way people protest. Whether users will have to adhere to all “real world” laws in the social network realm is yet to be determined; however, the one thing that will remain consistent is users’ desire to use the site as a social platform, a social movement, a social network.
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