Digital Activism Tactics: TweetStorms Reviewed

100Tweets2
Standard

In late 2010, digital activists on Twitter began experimenting with a new form of protest, the “TweetStorm.” I updated this from my old post because there have been a few changes to Twitter, and both Facebook and Google+ have now adopted hashtags, making this an even more attractive concept. Where you read “tweet” below, take that to include status updates on FaceBook, Twitter, and elsewhere.

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, or make a one-off campaign on thunderclap.it

What next?

  • You have to tell people about the TweetStorm, and ask them to get involved by supporting it by sending out a tweet or setting up a scheduled tweet (see below) and by spreading the idea to their followers!

    TIP:  Contact your most active followers  privately, to ask if they will take part and help to recruit others

  • Then, you all either keep the TweetStorm text somewhere handy (Facebook event, blog post, pastebin, etc) 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 some scheduling services available through mobile or online applications, such as Buffer or Hootsuite.

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 about all there is to it.

TIP: If you plan to use TweetStorms as an ongoing tactic, keep some stats, give people feedback, and THANK THEM for taking part

Summary

  1. Write the tweet(s) and/or choose a unique hashtag and pick some optional @username(s) to target
  2. Recruit your friends using DM, email, FaceBook, Twitter, Google+ etc. Coach them if necessary
  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?

tweet-in-a-bottleEarly 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 see that Twitter changed their Terms of Service so that sending “unsolicited” tweets, or using certain hashtags, could get your account suspended. Added to that, as Twitter grew and the user interface changed, many people found it increasingly difficult to maintain the level of close, co-operative contact with their network, which a TweetStorm depends on to be successful.

However, we can say:

  1. TweetStorms do work, and only thanks to the coordinated actions of concerned individuals.
  2. TweetStorms are not necessarily successful in isolation; they are an important adjunct to the conversations, petitions, emails, letters and postcards and other campaign actions.
  3. On Twitter, it is now very difficult to target Trending Topics, so targeted TweetStorms are a good alternative to trending.
  4. They the draw attention of other users, which can 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 meant as entertainment, rather as serious activism for spreading awareness, but you can make them fun, too. They are designed to attract attention from all corners, not only “@UN” or “@StateDept” for example.
  7. TweetStorms show allies the cause remains strong.
  8. They also show potential enemies that supporters of the cause are united. Maintaining secrecy of the tag and targets to the last minute also catches opponents by surprise, robbing them of the chance to spoil your plan.
  9. TweetStorms are democratic in nature: anyone can choose the message, 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 on Twitter back then) and blocked my account. Later, they began using the TweetStorm tactic themselves! And no, they didn’t unblock my account.

The original guides to the TweetStorm idea in several languages are available on these links:

TweetStorm-Arabic

TweetStorm-China

TweetStorm-Deutsch

TweetStorm-English

TweetStorm-Español

TweetStorm-Française

TweetStorm-Farsi

TweetStorm-Italia

TweetStorm-Japan

TweetStorm-Nederland

TweetStorm-Portugal

Related articles

Are you Being Squeezed by Social Media?

Zuck34_fbblue2
Standard

Facebook has made several radical changes to support its drive to increase revenue. Twitter is on the same path. But have they tipped the balance and found your breaking point yet?

Dangerous Minds has written a lengthy and eloquent complaint about how Facebook is deliberately “broken” so that your posts are held hostage unless you pay to promote them. They didn’t cover the other parts of this plan, such as removing or obscuring access to RSS feeds of Facebook content, or treating cross-posted content as inferior, so that not even the 15% of your friends or fans – who might see content you posted directly – get to see those posts. They are listed as “X posted something from WordPress”, for example. This is designed to force you to access Facebook directly so they can deliver their promotion pitch. For activists, there is the additional challenge of having content removed, or having pages or accounts suspended. We are not just unwelcome: we simply do not belong.

Twitter has always been cumbersome. From the early days of having to deal with the fail whale appearing often and at random, we have learned to roll with the punches as they change the terms of service and the ‘rules’, mess with search and trending topics, prevent us from accessing our tweets but sell them wholesale to market research companies, remove RSS feeds, arbitrarily suspend accounts without warning, and respond to complaints or enquiries with template emails… the list just goes on. Most of the changes are not announced. The users have to maintain a constant state of vigilance – finding, figuring out and publicising each change. It’s an irritating waste of time. And it’s not what we came for.

As activists, we want to engage in a more meaningful way: to forge relationships, spread awareness, make a difference. These platforms are increasingly hostile environments, and the decisions they make in support of their profit mandate often run counter to our needs.

In my opinion, anyone with serious networking goals is going to have to get off the social media hamster wheel some time. The ideal scenario would be one where we take our friends WITH us, leaving Twitter and Facebook to turn into the consumer wastelands they aspire to be, and without our direct involvement. In other words, to relegate them to a lower rank on our social media menu. I think this would mean cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter (whether automatically or selectively) , but rarely visiting the apps themselves.

The poster image created by Dangerous Minds reads “I want my friends back”. I don’t think most people realise that they are no longer seeing as much content from their friends, and I assume they will be staying in touch through other channels, including private messages. However, after watching Twitter getting blackmailed by a judge into handing over content including private messages without a warrant, or be forced to reveal its earnings data, we can’t really regard private messages as “private” with any certainty. If more changes are planned, ones that shrink the current options, I expect that many users will reach the point where they want out. Then again, I have observed that the majority of social media users, including activists, can be incredibly resistant to change. If that includes you, then I have some questions, and I would love to hear from you:

Have you tried (or tried and failed) to move away from Facebook and/or Twitter, and what happened? What justifies you staying on Facebook or Twitter, and what would it take for you to leave? Are you aware of alternatives that you have avoided because they are not as heavily populated, or because you can’t break your existing pattern of online behaviour, or because you are afraid you would lose your friends or following? Would you move to a social media application that uses a paid subscription model, where privacy, security were top priority, and it was guaranteed to be free of advertisements? What do you suggest as an alternative?

Do you understand by country censorship on Twitter; does it change anything for you?

Standard

Aha!
Just wondering what would happen, if I posted my comments on Twitter like this, embedded in an image. If my message was in contravention of some complaint that would cause my tweet to be censored under normal circumstances (if it was a text tweet). Would my image be censored; would it buy me some time before the message was spotted, for an objection to be raised or a rule applied, and the tweet filtered? An interesting idea to play with.

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this change. If you answered “No” or “Not really” please see the links below to learn more. I hope you’ll post in the comments or send a reply to @lissnup about this. For example:

  • will this make any difference to you as a Twitter user?
  • will users stick it out and find inventive work-arounds?
  • will you change any of your user habits?
  • would you look for an alternative micro-blogging platform to share status updates?
  • are free services more susceptible to unwelcome changes or restrictions?
  • would you “pay for a say” in how a social network is designed and managed?
  • are you “locked-in” to Twitter by your existing habits, network, reputation, etc?
  • Google’s announced combining all privacy policies etc – do you see a connection?
  • Internet users and ISPs are facing increasing legislative challenges (ie ACTA, SOPA/PIPA) – do you see a connection?

WordPress Devs Love Twitter But..

Standard

even they “moved to WordPress”, in a corporate example of my personal micro-blogging evolution. This explains how, in 2009, the theme I am using – P2 – changed Automattic.

I’ve decided to call what I am doing here – posting status updates to Twitter and FaceBook from a WordPress blog home page as my base – as live-tweeting. It makes so much more sense to me that the commonly accepted definition, where tweets are harvested and used to feed blog posts which are updated  over time.

One Flew The Twitter Nest

Standard

Not an exhaustive list of complaints, but these are a few of the reasons I decided to change the way I use social media, by changing my base from Twitter to WordPress.

  • My blog is indexed by search engines. My tweets are not. In fact, on some external applications that require a Twitter name to run a search via the Twitter API, my user name returns “User does not exist”.
  • I can export an entire archive of my blog posts, attachments & comments. I can’t export my tweets, even thought we were told in April 2010 that they would be in the US National Archive (what happened there?), and who knows what level of access the CIA has?
  • I can’t access the entire history of my “Twitter pics” on photobucket, despite being a registered user. The terms of service (TOS) say that they can be removed at any time – and I have seen images “disappear”. Meanwhile, under TwitPic‘s TOS I surrender all my rights to my images to TwitPic (not to the public domain). On WordPress my images are mine and they stay mine.
  • Direct Messages (DMs) are not guaranteed to remain private, since it has come to light that Twitter will hand them over to 3rd parties under court order; and not reliable for important communication because there is no mechanism apart from email alerts to inform you about new private messages. DMs often fail to update, fail to load, and the number of Direct Messages visible online is limited. Also, sent messages are not available to save or download within Twitter, unlike received messages which can be received via email (but without guarantees you’ll get them all). So you end up with one half of a conversation, or searching around for a third party application to extract your own DMs, but in doing that you have to grant access to your private messages to a 3rd party! Email or secure chat are far superior tools for conversations.
  • Replies on Twitter are a freaking mess. There is minimal threading restricted to just a few posts. Comment threads on a blog or threaded emails are a much better alternative.
  • Twitter is not well suited to people who want to post frequent updates, and this is especially true when they follow other users with similar update volumes. The timeline for users like myself is an unmanageable cacophony of over 1000 tweets an hour, and the restrictions on the number of posts that can be viewed, combined with the ongoing and unpredictable issue where some updates fail to load, makes it impossible to rely on being able to see all your friend’s updates, or of your own updates being seen.
  • WordPress does not enforce random censorship of your posts without any warning. Twitter users have been complaining of apparent but usually unprovable censorship on their posts, usually linked to certain key words or hashtags, for over two years.
  • WordPress allows long posts without having to resort to a different application to create them, and supports almost unlimited tags as well as categories. Twitter will limit the number of links allowed on a tweet, and will consider you in violation of TOS if you frequently use “too many” tags or mention people “too often” if they don’t follow you.
  • WordPress lets you choose if people can subscribe to your blog, tells you when that happens, and those subscribers can choose to reveal their identity to you or not. They can unsubscribe any time they like. No one on WordPress makes a fuss about gaining or losing subscribers. WordPress granular Comments options deal with new commenters or potential spam with sensitivity and common sense. Compare that to the follow-follow back-unfollow-block-report options and the insecure-and-creepy moral blackmail tone of “who unfollowed me”, the endless waves of Twitter spam, and the nauseating #TeamFollowBack nonsense.
  • Twitter does not approve of multiple accounts for one user. WordPress offers you almost unlimited blogs. With the free template I am using here, P2, I can allow any WordPress user to post updates to my blog if I wish and we can all be logged in to WordPress at the same time.
  • The P2 template I’m using here offers the option of creating a short status update or a regular post. Clearly, the demise of TweetDeck’s deck.ly longer post management has been a golden opportunity for WordPress.
  • Finally (for now) Twitter is unresponsive to complaints or criticisms and has abandoned the quality of interaction that was there at the very start. The millions of users, excluding the vast majority that are spam accounts, do not feel like part of a community where their opinions or feedback are solicited, welcomed and responded to. There is no consultative process for Twitter development. Each change comes as a complete surprise. The inevitable bugs and service failures that accompany each change now fails to surprise anyone. WordPress commitment to community engagement is the polar opposite of Twitter.

There you go. Those are my main reasons for moving to WordPress.

What does that mean for anyone who follows me on Twitter?
If I am following you back, you might not get a reply to your DM. You should email me: mail.lissnup[at]gmail[dot]com instead.
Whether I am following you or not, you will get a response to comments on the blog here far faster than to a reply or mention on Twitter.
Everything I post here will be sent to my Twitter account, so you’ll still see my posts on Twitter and can read them in their entirety here. Forever. Almost: eventually they’ll need to be archived for the sake of everyone’s  sanity.
I will be doing far fewer manual re-tweets or Twitter button re-tweets.
I will still read some of the updates you post to Twitter, using a search result page that I have created specifically for that purpose.

More discussion and input about this here and the thinking behind the WordPress team themselves using this concept since 2009, here

Questions or comments? Use the comments section here!