|During Israel’s war on Gaza people from across the world turned to Twitter and to mark the anniversary a new Twitter campaign was developed [GALLO/GETTY]|
Over the past year, Twitter-based campaigns have emerged as an effective means of spreading information. From the well-known global initiative to support Iranian protesters to the hyper-local lobbying efforts to get #dubaimetro to ‘trend’, Twitter has become an important platform for activism.
But long before the Iranian elections rocketed Twitter into a household name, international activists were using Twitter to spread information and news on Palestine.
Last December, as the news of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead spread throughout the world, Twitter immediately became a meeting point for activists of all ilk, and was quickly legitimised as politicians and government entities signed up in droves.
Notably, the Israeli consulate in New York held a Twitter ‘press conference’ – an idea that would be replicated numerous times in the year to come.
How it works
On December 27, the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, the hashtag “#Gaza” reached Twitter’s list of trending topics and remained amongst the top spots for over eight hours, thanks to a concerted effort by Lebanese activist Nadine Moawad, who recruited nearly 100 Twitter users to dedicate a four-hour time frame to tweeting about Gaza.
By the end of the day, that 100 had multiplied to more than 500.
So, what makes a campaign like this work?
Typically, a hashtag (e.g., #gaza or #iranelection) is created and a timeframe selected.
In order to get the hashtag to ‘trend’, a mass of users must participate by adding the hashtag to individual tweets about the topic at hand.
When a critical mass of tweets has been reached, the hashtag will be included in Twitter’s list of trending topics – a list based on the popularity of a given topic and which can include anything from the name of a recently deceased celebrity to a topic fabricated just for entertainment.
In other words, there can be a lot with which to compete.
Unifying a divided community
Although the immediate success of such a campaign is limited to mere statistics, many participants feel that their online efforts achieved the broader goal of creating awareness by reaching out to the general public of Twitter users.
Most Twitter pages are public and therefore have the potential to reach an infinite number of people.
When a topic hits the front page of Twitter, users often click on it out of curiosity – which seemed to frequently be the case yesterday, as many campaign participants reported being asked, “What is #Gaza?”
It would appear that the campaign has also made a few steps toward unifying an often-divided community.
Social networking sites have made it easier to find like-minded people thanks to search algorithms and social networking, and Twitter is no exception; on Twitter, users append ‘Twibbons’ onto their avatars, often of the campaign’s hashtag, or use a single image to denote a cause.
But as the campaign wears into its third day, the tweets are becoming more and more repetitive, opponents are joining the fray, and the topic is no longer trending; like most of the time, the list has been taken over by entertainment topics often prompted – or started – by Hollywood celebrities.
Yet at the same time, over the course of the past few days, a number of participants have reported making meaningful connections, while others marveled at participating in a campaign for the first time.
But the one thing that most participants agree on is that they honoured Gaza in some way.
As organiser Nadine Moawad stated on her blog: “There was something beautiful in all of us, strangers, coming together, from all over the world … away from the usual rhetoric, the usual groups, politicians, and religions that hijack the Palestinian cause.”
Jillian York is a writer, blogger and activist based in Boston. She is a project coordinator for the OpenNet initiative at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and deeply involved with Global Voices Online and Herdict. Click here to read her blog.