Monday, January 11, 2010

Twitter is far more than Newly-created “Twilebrities”

Once again, Hollywood takes over and turns something innovative into trite navel-gazing. A recent article in Vanity Fair examines the phenomenon of a handful of (coincidentally) females who are so popular on Twitter that a new moniker has been coined for them: Twilebrity. They have one thing in common: a career thread, in that they are all practicing in the area of public relations, marketing or journalism. The story oozes about how their daily lives are dominated by Twitter and is peppered with examples of their tweets and how important their rankings have become based on the number of followers each has accumulated.

The story is amusing, and is further evidence of how popularity dominates today’s lifestyles. But what is really bothersome about the Vanity Fair piece is the complete lack of reporting about the social good which has been derived from many social initiatives, particularly on Twitter.

Case in point: Twestival. A grassroots event held over 4 days in February, with a goal of raising money for clean water in Ethiopia. The result, from the Twestival Web site:
The 2009 Twestival brought together 202 cities around the world for one cause. Clean and safe drinking water. Led by organizer Amanda Rose, an astonishing $250,000 was raised - 100% of that money going directly to the projects. charity: water staff flew to Ethiopia weeks later to drill the first well, and connect the Twitter community with the people they served.

The group even used social media when they went to Ethiopia to drill the wells for clean water, posting four videos on the effort. Before this world-wide social media effort, the women of the Ethiopian village which benefitted from the Twitter-initiated event had to walk 4 hours for clean water.

Second case: The Iran Elections of last June, catalogued on Twitter as #IranElections. As the world watched Iran struggle with the most controversial elections in recent history, the awareness and empathy created through social media outlets is undeniable. Iranians had an outlet to communicate which was not dominated by a single entity; they could communicate with the outside world and we with them. A timeline created by Mashable aggregates hundreds of areas where photos, Tweets, definitions and videos were posted. The post starts with the elections and tracks the flow of information through the protest and unrest period after the event.

To say that Twitter is just about celebrity and OMG (Oh, my God) moments is to undermine the serious communications tool it has become for people across the world to help one another achieve goals by exchanging 140 character messages. Some Twitter initiatives are as simple as finding an alternative route home in heavy traffic or a restaurant recommendation. Conversely, others are as gut-wrenching as recent efforts to find missing persons or providing clean water and fair elections in countries that don’t have them. None of these will have a Twilebrity and for that, Twitter users everywhere are grateful.