by Joe Scarry
If you are like me, you breathe a little sigh of relief every time you see some big New Media guru admit that no one really understands how Twitter works.
I spend a lot of time on Twitter, but there’s still a lot about it that’s mysterious to me.
So why do I use it? Because one thing that is clear to me is that the way community forms on Twitter bears the closest resemblance to the characteristics of community formation that we, as activists, need to work with from now on.
What I see on Twitter is: high autonomy (with low affiliation), personality, reciprocity,spreadability, and habit/practice.
Herewith some amplification on those characteristics, and some questions.
High autonomy (with low affiliation)
|Well … er … some Twitter accounts are
even more “autonomous” than most. 🙂
The most significant characteristic of Twitter communities, I believe, is that they are made up of highly autonomous individuals. In other words, people are (in general) not readily recognizable as affiliated with the community(s) with which they meaningfully participate.
At first, this may seem untrue. “But what about the many people who identify themselves as belonging to a group, or supporting a cause?”
I believe that, while there are a very small number of clearly-affiliated activists on Twitter engaging in highly influential activity, there is a group of people that is larger by a factor of 100 who are also influential (or potentially influential) Twitter activists who arenot clearly affiliated. Our job is to connect with them and encourage them!
This is supported by years of activity on Twitter, and countless examples of being led astray by the affiliation that I thought was important to people, only to realize that their stated affiliation was not reflected in their actual Twitter activity . . .
. . . and, conversely, examples of people whose activity made them important activists, despite their lack of explicit affiliation.
This probably holds very good lessons for us about how the real world works, as well!
|@HiginiaRoig on Twitter:
“Jo també reclamo l’abolició de les armes nuclears.”
[“I also demand the abolition of nuclear weapons.”](More at #HiroshimaNagasaki70 – What I Learned on Twitter.)
People like to express themselves and receive attention.
These are the factors that drive Twitter.
(Note that this is slightly different than saying, “People like to engage in conversations and/or debate with other people.”)
Never underestimate the power of the ego’s need for attention!
I think this is confirmed by the way in which common ideas are expressed over and over again, each time in original ways — and sometimes hitting the jackpot of mass sharing.
What that means for my own work is that I hold the hope that some kind of organic process(es) happening in social media will build towards a critical mass for peace.
Now it’s just a matter of understanding those processes, and encouraging them.
(Can you spot the signs of reciprocity?)
Closely related to the characteristic of high autonomy (and of personality) is the fact that social media is ruled by reciprocity:
I think many people may be misled by the fact that there are a tiny fraction of Twitter accounts with massive numbers of followers, and those accounts succeed at being unidirectional. (They put out a tweet, and a bizillion people spread it; but they don’t do the same for their followers.)
In fact, I think the much more significant activity on Twitter is that which happens between people who support each other in a reciprocal fashion: “You pay attention to and retweet my stuff; I’ll do the same for you.”
Now, one way of looking at it is to say, “Well, that’s not very idealistic!”
But isn’t the real question: how do things really work? And if reciprocity rules on Twitter, shouldn’t we get with the program?
|Read about the work we’re doing to make An Alternative
Global Security System really, really spreadable.
Ultimately, our success or failure will come down to the question of whether we availed ourselves of the power of social media to spread our message.
The social media counterpart to “If a tree falls in the forest . . . ” is “Think FIRST about spreadability, and only THEN about the actual content of the message.”
The most productive thing any activist could do today is to carve out an hour, open up their laptop, and look at Twitter, Facebook, or some other social media app and ask him/herself “What makes certain messages get spread over and over and over?” (Notice in particular the ones that get spread even though they don’t have to do with sex or celebrity or sports!)
|Tuesdays are #NOnukes days on Twitter: #NoNukesTuesday|
People tend to think of Twitter and other social media as apps that people use randomly and ad hoc — in other words, without much thought, whenever they have a moment.
However, I’ve noticed that some people use their Twitter accounts in consistent ways: it is clear that these people are thinking about how to be most effective on Twitter, are developing practices to do on a regular basis, and are gaining the advantage of habit.
I believe we will be most successful when we take seriously the work that so many activists are doing with their Twitter accounts!
All of the above leaves me with several burning questions:
(1) Can we build mass action if people don’t affiliate — at least not in the traditional sense of affiliation?
(2) How can we better observe and learn and how people use social media — so that we have real knowledge to apply to the work of activism?
(3) Most important of all: how can we make what we do recursive — i.e. not just invite more people into activism, but also invite them to actually become “inviters” (and “inviters of inviters”) themselves?
If you care as much about using social media for activism as I do, please get online and help me answer these questions!