Type: Analysis
Pages: 5 | Words: 1477
Reading Time: 7 Minutes

The role of social media within the realm of international discourse has been elevated in recent years to outstanding proportions. Twitter is a social media juggernaut that at times plays no critical role in anything meaningful, yet on the other end of the spectrum it is a money making tool in the evolving world of media and advertising. Twitter’s significance does not end there; Twitter has been used as a tool by revolutionaries in the Middle East and helped the proliferation of what is being called the “Arab Spring.” The following will explore the primary rationales for Twitter’s current relevance by way of analysis of the cultural tenets, monetary tenets and political tenets.

Twitter began as brainstorming project in 2006 between Jack Dorsey and several colleagues (Miller). The simple premise of Twitter is that one can post a message, 140 characters in length and share this among followers; this post is referred to as a “Tweet.” Users can also rebroadcast a tweet of an individual they follow which is known as a “retweet.” The tools are particularly convenient for breaking news, sharing of information by way of links, or directly provoking a response from a public figure. This breakdown of the wall that separated designated news sources or the entertainers from the entertained has prompted a peculiar phenomenon: “trending.” In each tweet the user can attach a pound symbol (#) followed by a particular topic (#particulartopic) and if a sizable amount of users catch on to this particular topic it becomes a “trending topic.” In this case it is what many people are talking about and ascends to the most important and talked about topic within what has been called “Twitterverse.” This Twitterverse are the confines by which all discussion is measured, it is by default the formal boundary of activity on Twitter. These general descriptions of the service do not give credence to the informal boundaries of Twitter, which extend all the way from Wall Street to the streets of the Arab World.

With the advent of digital video recording, streaming internet radio and a general drop in print media the need for innovative adaptations by advertising firms has crossed over into a brand new, wild digital frontier. There are no rules or traditional methods of advertising anymore. The Twitterverse is certainly no exceptions and advertising executives are learning how to communicate to an emerging demographic of the digital consumer. In many senses Twitter has broken down the stranglehold of ad firms and allowed the individual to bypass barriers of entry to the market. One such example is the ever scandalous and empirically challenged “Lady Gaga.” Despite being signed to a major label, Lady Gaga is fast approaching 32 million followers; she is the most followed person on the client (Twitter Counter). To put that in perspective, there are 203 countries with smaller populations (Census Bureau)! In fact 13 of the top 15 most followed individuals are pop stars or President Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. These statistics show that the marketing power of these individuals is up to the personal whims of themselves, and not publicists working for a huge Firm. If one were to analyze Oprah Winfrey’s ability to market (quite literally) billions of dollars by way of her television network, her magazine and her “book club,” one could understand what a designated demographic base Oprah provides to marketers. She has just over 15 million followers, meaning ad agencies can cross reference, study and produce products that these 15 million will respond to. If Oprah finds a nice novel that really moved her she can tweet about it and the publishing company of that book can expect a sizable increase in sales. In this way the financial landscape of twitter’s instantaneous sharing of information can really benefit producers. It most certainly has the capacity to go the other way, in that if Oprah chose to denounce a book that publishing company could expect a death nail in its product.

Political institutions can also be victims. In future years history books will cite the role of social media among savvy rebels who sought to topple treacherous dictators in the Middle East. A study was done by the University of Washington in 2011 entitled: “Opening Closed Regimes

What Was the Role of Social Media During the Arab Spring?” It established three core questions and issues that relate to social media: whether social media actually did anything, spike of online activity occurred prior to major revolutionary events and finally how the events of Tunisia and Egypt helped the role of social media gain traction internationally. The first issue of whether social media affected the role of the revolutions was obvious, however, the authors did insist that cheap mobile devices were probably used in greater numbers by way of text messaging, however, to compile data on that proved to be impossible and as such this should exist as a contention point in some sense. In the second point there was indeed a correlation with online activity and major events occurring somewhat immediately afterwards: In Tunisia, for example, 20 percent of blogs were evaluating Ben Ali’s [Former Tunisian Head of State] leadership on the day he resigned from office (January 14), up from just 5 percent the month before. Subsequently, the primary topic for Tunisian blogs was “revolution” until a public rally of at least 100,000 people took place and eventually forced the old regime’s remaining leaders to relinquish power,” (Howard, Duffy, Freelon, Hussian, Mari, Mazaid, 2011). Instances of this occurring also happened in Egypt. The role of broadcast media was also directly involved: Our evidence suggests that democracy advocates in Egypt and Tunisia used social media to connect with others outside their countries. In many cases, these connections helped inform Western news stories about events on the ground, which in turn spread news about ongoing events throughout the region. In many other cases, we find that democracy advocates in Egypt and Tunisia picked up followers in other countries, where similar democratic protests would later erupt,” (Howard, Duffy, Freelon, Hussian, Mari, Mazaid, 2011). Indeed the fluidity of instant news served as a benefit to news agencies. It helped with creating a powerful narrative and somewhat accurate description of events. One notable situation is the current situation in Syria, where President Bashar Al-Assad has launched a brutal assault on his own citizenry in the face of public outcry for his resignation. The conflict has turned into a full out war, with sectarian rebels battling a particularly hostile regime with little help from the international community. The Assad regime has made the entry of foreign journalists incredibly difficult and as such has made documenting the events difficult. It has become privy to the tools rebels have utilized including Twitter and addressed it by instituting periodical internet access blackouts. Even more recently, the scuffle, spat or conflict between Israel and Hamas showed the first signs of the evolution of the role of Twitter: an online public relations war between two actors who were simultaneously in an actual war. As the Huffington Post reported: “on Wednesday [November 14, 2012] morning @IDFSpokesperson announced the launch of a massive operation in Gaza, which began with a targeted attack against the leader of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabari,” (Gordts). The Israeli Defense Forces even posted a video on YouTube of the assassination of a high ranking Hamas target. If anything this marks a major point in Twitter as a utility for the Middle East.

Briefly, one should mention that there are some very poignant instances that beg for contention points. One of which is the degradation of the English language. Since there are only 140 characters of which to type the need for acronyms and modification of words is quite necessary. It is here where the technologically privy generation of youth may suffer the consequences of such conditions. It is this writer’s opinion that if this trend continues it could serve as a detriment to future generations of social media users. Finally with literally billions of tweets being tweeted the role of an opinion is much like a double edged sword, in that although one now has a voice, it is among hundreds of millions. This may mean a dilution in the importance of an opinion as well as a disregard. One merely attaches themselves to a particular “hashtag,” and is just a number in a myriad of trending topics.

Social media has evolved into a tool made for the 21st century. The consequences and variables of its existence do arguably good things, like breakdown barriers of entry to particular firms. It has also fulfilled a capacity to share vital information in war zones. The role it will play in future crises or album drops remains to be seen as being a necessary medium for society. Either way, history books will cite social media as a major factor in world events.

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