Digital Activism Tactics: TweetStorms Revisited

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In late 2010, digital activists on Twitter began experimenting with a new form of protest, the “TweetStorm”. I updated this from my old post in case others want to give it a try.

What is a TweetStorm?

It’s a coordinated action by many users to tweet about a single issue at the same time, generating a “storm” of tweets

How does it work?

Anyone can call for a TweetStorm, you just need to decide:

  1. What will be in the tweet[s] (the text and what hashtags, any special user to target, eg @whitehouse – but use extreme restraint, or risk alienating* a user who can help! TIP: Choose a new, unique hashtag, but everyone has to keep it secret
    until right before the event
  2. What time it has to be sent (essential to choose a time you know lots of supporters are usually online)  TIP: Create an online event that people can sign up for

What next?

  • You have to tell people about the TweetStorm, and ask them to get involved by supporting it (sending out a tweet or setting up a scheduled tweet – see below) and by spreading the idea to their followers! TIP: Send polite DMs to ask your most active followers if they will take part and help to recruit others
  • Then, you all either keep the TweetStorm text somewhere handy and tweet at the appointed time, or schedule the tweets to go out at the set time.

How do I schedule a tweet?

TweetDeck includes a schedule tweet feature, and there are several free scheduling services available online. See this article: How to Schedule Tweets for details and links to various sevices.

How do I know what time to send the tweet if I am in a different time zone?

Check times in various time zones here: http://www.worldtimeserver.com/ or here: http://www.worldtimezones.com/

And that is all there is to it.

Summary

  1. Write the tweet(s) with a unique tag and optional @username(s)
  2. Recruit your friends using DM, email, FaceBook, etc
  3. Remember to set up your schedule if you need to
  4. Pass the information along – you may want to warn your followers
  5. Post increasingly frequent reminders as the time approaches, but keep the new hashtag secret

Are TweetStorms Effective? 

Early analysis indicated that TweetStorms were highly effective. Whether that was the result of serendipity or serious effort remained to be proven in those early days. With the benefit of hindsight we can say that what did happen was, Twitter changed their Terms of Service so that sending “unsoliticited” tweets or using certain hashtags could get your account suspended. Added to that, as Twitter grew, and as the user interface changed, many people found it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of close cooperative contact with their network that a TweetStorm depends on to be successful. However, we can say:

  1. TweetStorms work, only thanks to the coordinated actions of concerned individuals.
  2. TweetStorms are not necessarily successful in isolation; they are an important adjunct to the petitions, emails, letters and postcards being sent out under various other campaigns.
  3. On Twitter, it is now very difficult to target Trending Topics, so targetted TweetStorms are a good alternative to trending.
  4. They the draw attention of other users, which can only help strengthen a cause.
  5. TweetStorms are NOT spam. Spam is useless or irrelevant information sent to random or unrelated targets.
  6. TweetStorms are not entertainment, they are serious activism spreading awareness. They are designed to attract attention from all corners, not only “UN” or “State Dept” for example.
  7. TweetStorms show allies the cause remains strong.
  8. They also show potential enemies that supporters of the cause are united.
  9. TweetStorms are democratic in nature: Anyone can have a say in what is said, who it targets, and when.
  10. TweetStorms are relatively easy – with potential high returns for minimal effort and zero outlay

Last Word

As activists, it is important to not only take part in TweetStorms, but to actively encourage others to join. Activism doesn’t stop at the ‘send’ button.

* Aside: When I started TweetStorms, to draw attention to human rights issues in Iran, Amnesty International was a target for more than one campaign. They were not at all happy to see their timeline flooded with our messages (there was no mentions column back then) and blocked my account. Later, they began using the TweetStorm tactic themselves! And no, they didn’t unblock my account.

4 thoughts on “Digital Activism Tactics: TweetStorms Revisited

    • Thanks Sally, a phone app would be useful, but I am never going to recommend anyone use Nokia after they betrayed Iran protesters and citizen journalists in 2009 and then denied it, despite evidence being presented.

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