Serious Research on the Internet

In the midst of some work-related research on blogs, I ran across this interesting factoid, courtesy of the Australian organization Caslon Analytics:

Researchers for the Oxford English Dictionary claimed in 2007 that “the 15 most frequently used words in the blogosphere” (presumably the Anglo part of the blogosphere) are –

  1. blogger
  2. blog
  3. stupid
  4. me
  5. myself
  6. my
  7. oh
  8. yeah
  9. ok
  10. post
  11. stuff
  12. lovely
  13. update
  14. nice
  15. [four letter word beginning with s]

I love my job.

Twitter Revolution?

“This is it. The big one…. It’s Twitter.” For those of you who haven’t been following the media hype surrounding Iran’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-a “Twitter Revolution,” that’s Clay Shirky, speaking four days after the June 2009 presidential elections. Ouch. Awkward.

Image courtesy of TouchTheStars09 on Flickr.
Image courtesy of TouchTheStars09 on Flickr.

“This is it. The big one…. It’s Twitter.”

For those of you who haven’t been following the media hype surrounding Iran’s is-it-or-isn’t-it-a “Twitter Revolution,” that’s Clay Shirky, speaking four days after the June 2009 presidential elections.

Ouch. Awkward.

It’s not that Shirky was alone in his enthusiasm, nor was he the first to champion Twitter as a revolutionary force in Iranian politics. Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic wrote of the protests, “You cannot stop people any longer. You cannot control them any longer. They can bypass your established media; they can broadcast to one another; they can organize as never before,” and the New York Times chimed in with an article on how “new kinds of social media are challenging those traditional levers of state media control and allowing Iranians to find novel ways around the restrictions.”

It’s more that…well…nothing much has changed. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is still in power, and a recent study found that less than one percent of Iranians — 0.027 percent, precisely, though that number likely includes foreigners who changed their profile location last summer — are on Twitter.

Shirky shouldn’t feel too bad, though. Evgeny Morozov, who’s made quite a name for himself bashing “cyber utopians” for their uncritical love of all things social media, is responsible for the phrase “Twitter Revolution,” which he first applied to Moldova in April 2009. Boing Boing‘s Xeni Jardin appropriated the meme in GOOD magazine during Guatemala’s May 2009 political unrest. I myself am guilty of propagating it – on Twitter, no less – in Uganda after the September 2009 riots in Kampala.

Still, despite all the hype (and no matter how much we wish it were so), none of the so-called “revolutions” in Iran, Moldova, Guatemala or Uganda have lead to substantially different governments. Rather than reflecting actual politics, the Twitter Revolution seems to be largely a product of the media, both mainstream and social. “Western journalists shifted their focus from the role of Iranian people to the role of technology,” Ethan Zuckerman says of the June 2009 media coverage. In the October issue of Information Today, Morozov wondered if the emphasis on Twitter took critical focus away from the politics and history behind the event: “It certainly made an impact in how the events were covered in the West…. It probably stole from the protesters, because instead of discussing what was happening, a quarter of American media coverage was devoted to what so-and-so said on Twitter.”

I tend to agree with anthropologist Maximilian Forte, who conducted a study of the election-related tweets and related media coverage between June 13 and 17, 2009. Forte’s research led him to conclude: “This is indeed a ‘revolution’…but it’s for Twitter.”

It turns out Shirky was right. The big one is Twitter, as long as you get a little Clintonian (“it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is”) in your definition of the “one.”

Was Twitter a revolutionary force in Iran? I don’t think so. Was Iran a revolutionary force in how the average American views Twitter? Definitely, unquestionably yes. The Twitter Revolution — or revolutions, if we’re being fair to Moldova, Guatemala and Uganda — is the big one. Just not the one we were hoping for.

Adapted from a paper written for “Social Impact of Mass Media,” a class taught by Andie Tucher at The Journalism School at Columbia University (download “Twitter Revolution?” as a PDF). Crossposted on The Morningside Post.

Australian radio show features citizen journalism in Uganda

After I published an article for the Committee to Protect Journalists on citizen journalism during the Kampala riots, Shevonne Hunt of Australian radio show The Fourth Estate contacted me to talk about the role Twitter and blogs played in the crisis.

Solomon King (the force behind Ugandan blog aggregator Blogspirit and one of the most prolific tweeters during the riots) and I are featured in the show’s most recent podcast. You can access it at The Fourth Estate (scroll down to the bottom, click “Show Episodes,” and choose the episode from September 25).

As Solomon says, hope I did all of you justice!

Twitter Diplomacy

San Francisco Demonstration in Solidarity with Gaza, from isa e

Unless your holiday season involves complete and total hibernation, you’ve probably heard about this weekend’s attacks in Gaza. More than 350 Palestinians and four Israelis have been killed so far, and neither Israel nor Hamas shows any sign of backing down.

A few minutes ago I got an e-mail from Jill York announcing that the Israeli Consulate in New York will be holding a press conference this afternoon to field questions about Israel’s offensive. Slight twist: they’ll be holding it on Twitter, where they set up an account yesterday.

Anyone can submit questions to @israelconsulate, and David Saranga, Consul of Media and Public Affairs in New York, will do his best to answer, either via Twitter or by posting a link to the Consulate’s blog.

Israel isn’t alone in using Twitter to communicate with the public; the United States is getting some Web 2.0 diplomacy action as well. Last week Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Colleen Graffy published an editorial in the Washington Post on her own usage of Twitter to connect to people in the countries she visits. She writes:

Not that long ago, communicating diplomat-to-diplomat was enough. Agreements were reached behind closed doors and announced in a manner and degree that suited the schedule and desires of the governments involved, not the general population. In fact, the public was by and large an afterthought. But the proliferation of democracies and the emergence of the round-the-clock media environment has brought an end to those days. Now, governments must communicate not only with their people but also with foreign audiences, including through public diplomacy.

In short, public diplomacy is the art of communicating a country’s policies, values and culture. If diplomats want to engage effectively with people, we first need to listen, then connect and then communicate. In the part of the world that I know and cover, Europe and Eurasia, most people are tuned in to television, and the younger generation is using text messages and the Internet. So, we need to be there, too.

Graffy’s tweets tend toward the personal (Need to get a new laptop. Have always had a PC. Friends are telling me to get a Mac. I’m scared. Have others survived the transition?), while the Israeli Consulate has focused so far on the upcoming press conference. Still, both efforts represent genuine ventures on the part of government representatives to engage one-on-one with people around the world.


The Internet President

Crossposted on The Morningside Post.

Image from Desmond Blog

Barack Obama has been called, by everyone from Columbia Law School professor Eben Moglen to media expert Jeff Jarvis, “the first candidate elected by the internet.” By all accounts, online fundraising was a major factor in propelling Obama to the top, and his new site lets Americans share their vision for the next administration.

Now, as the Presidential transition is in process, Obama’s team is taking Internet awareness one step further. If you’re interested in working in a top position in the White House, the New York Times reports that you’d better be willing to divulge your blog, your Facebook profile, and “all aliases or ‘handles’ you have used to communicate on the Internet” in the past decade.

I gave it a shot, and realized my list would include not just profiles on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn but also accounts with Delicious, Twitter, BigSight, FriendFeed, Dopplr, Metafilter and (and an unfortunate experiment with Xanga at age 14). Will a recently-loved song on Favtape become a “possible source of embarrassment” to me, me family, or the president-elect? Will a two-year-old blog post of awkward photos of George Bush seem less sarcastic than fawning, casting me into the ranks of suspected Republicans?

I don’t have to give up as much as the Big O himself, though. (Side note: calling the president-elect “the Big O” will likely embarrass me, my family and Obama himself. This is the part where I kiss my Secretary of State aspirations goodbye.) Due to security concerns, Obama’s being asked to surrender his beloved BlackBerry before stepping into the Oval Office.