The Twitter revolution

What do TCD Provost candidate Colm Kearney and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have in common? They are both aware of the potential of the social media in winning hearts and minds. Kearney was first out of the gate in the campaign for Trinity College’s top post and had a well prepared machine up and running immediately, of which his Twitter account was perhaps the most innovative element. He also has a Facebook account, but I don’t think he has yet put that to work, and indeed may not yet know how to do so.

And Hillary Clinton? Well, she has let it be known that she wants the State Department to use the social media to create a channel of communication with young people in the current areas of turbulence in the Middle East and North Africa.

Whether either of them will use Twitter to practical effect remains to be seen, but it is interesting that both understand the significance of the medium. For anyone following the events right now in the Arab world, doing it via Twitter is a disturbingly different experience. Someone recently suggested to me that getting your news from the BBC is like having afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel, brought to you on a trolley with a table cloth and in a silver kettle. Getting the news from Twitter is like drinking from a street fountain. It’s different, and you need to know how to do it, but you get something that is both more pure and at the same time less refined.

So for example, I have been following events in Libya on Twitter over the past 20 minutes. During the few minutes it has taken me to write this post up to here, a total of 420 tweets have come in about Libya. Some are sarcastic comments (one suggesting for example that the speech by Gaddafi’s son Saif was scripted by US far right columnist Glenn Beck), some are heartbreaking pleas by Libyan exiles hoping for news of loved ones, some are apparent comments from the current trouble spots, some are short pieces of analysis by news reporters, some are announcements by governments and agencies. Is it accurate? Well, the Twitter world is saying right now that Gaddafi has fled, perhaps to Venezuela. The major news sites seem to know nothing of that. By the time you may be reading this you’ll know, perhaps, what is true. So you cannot be sure about the precise accuracy of what you are reading, but you are getting the full force of the news, rumours and arguments swirling round the system. And you keep an eye on the source of what you are reading.

So what about the TCD election? Yes, it has its hashtag, but so far it lacks the sense of immediacy or the excitement that this should generate. Statements there are genteel rather than challenging, and in so far as the candidates are turning up (and not all of them are) they are massaging their voters rather than challenging them to think. But it’s a start, and it would be churlish of me not to say that I am quite impressed that Colm Kearney has gone out there and tried it. Maybe it’s a good sign and we can hope for a communications revolution in Irish higher education. That is what I have wanted to start, and someone needs to take it forward.

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4 Comments on “The Twitter revolution”

  1. Vincent Says:

    Reading the tag for TCD, this comes to mind.

    1 WITCH. Round about the caldron go;
    In the poison’d entrails throw.—
    Toad, that under cold stone,
    Days and nights has thirty-one;
    Swelter’d venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot!
    ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
    2 WITCH. Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the caldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
    Adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting,
    Lizard’s leg, and owlet’s wing,—
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
    ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
    3 WITCH. Scale of dragon; tooth of wolf;
    Witches’ mummy; maw and gulf
    Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark;
    Root of hemlock digg’d i the dark;
    Liver of blaspheming Jew;
    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
    Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse;
    Nose of Turk, and Tartar’s lips;
    Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,—
    Make the gruel thick and slab:
    Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
    For the ingrediants of our caldron.
    ALL. Double, double toil and trouble;
    Fire burn, and caldron bubble.
    2 WITCH. Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.

  2. anna notaro Says:

    * Someone recently suggested to me that getting your news from the BBC is like having afternoon tea at the Ritz Hotel, brought to you on a trolley with a table cloth and in a silver kettle. Getting the news from Twitter is like drinking from a street fountain. It’s different, and you need to know how to do it, but you get something that is both more pure and at the same time less refined.*
    Just a word of caution about the idealization of the ‘purity’ of communication, there is no such thing as ‘pure’ communication, the message is always mediated, in this case by a medium whose ownership lies in Western hands – by the way this morning’s reports from the BBC refer to ‘rumors’ on Twitter re Gaddafi feeing the country.
    Oviously, I don’t want to underestimate the importance of p2p and social media as deep agents of social change, and essential organizational tools, but they must be part of an integrated strategy in order to bring about a successful *revolution*. Let’s not forget that these same media can be used for identification of dissent and no serious social movement who wants to effect deep change can merely rely on the quick mobilization power of social media, but needs longer term policies of consensus. Still, just as the Reformation crucially relied on books, and the Labour Movement on print and newspaper, it is true that no social struggle is conceivable today, without the right usage of p2p media. Also, it might be useful to reflect on what we mean exactly by *revolution* in such various contexts, besides the obvious one of uprising leading to a regime change, another deeper meaning refers to Revolution as a phase transition (which is exactly what we are experiencing) in such a phase it is rather tricky to appreciate the long course of history, and its sometimes explosive accelerations, when a long term quantitative development becomes a qualitative leap.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Bosca and Ferdinand, mikelyons1956. mikelyons1956 said: FvP has made an interesting positive comment on the Kearney #tcdprovost campaign.The Twitter revolution: http://t.co/BwD6PZw […]


  4. […] just written a piece on my other blog Digital Literacy: your future world about a post on the “Twitter Revolution”. And it got me thinking about how we use social media here in UW. Do we make the best use of it? […]


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