Some SocMed Updates

Just to let you know, if you missed my tweets, I’ve now got my survey about Twitter finished to a point that I’m happy with. The link is here. Please pass it on to anyone you think may be interested – people who use Twitter or consume news regularly, would be preferable. I am looking to get 100-200 responses so I’d be really grateful if you could help me out.

In semi-related news, one of my tutors at University led a study, ‘Unplugged’ – where students were asked to participate in a ‘media blackout’ (no phones, ipods, computers etc) – and here are some of the results. I find it particularly interesting that there appears to be no differentiation in young people between a genuine news outlet like the BBC and, for example, a blog or something written on Facebook. So news is becoming more and more integrated into our lives without us really acknowledging consciously that it is news. We see it, we hear it, we live it. And we don’t really think too much about where it’s coming from – which leads me to believe there’s a potential danger here, of taking everything at face value.

The other point I wanted to pick up on – though not to do with news – is the idea of being ‘digital natives’. My generation have grown up around technology, and with the evolution of the internet and connectivity, there is no sense of geographical boundaries in day-to-day life. I have friends in Australia, America, Ireland… Some I’ve never met, some I never will – but there’s rarely any sense of them being ‘far away’. I know what they’re doing and I don’t feel like there is a huge distance between us; in fact, there’s a (perhaps false?) sense of closeness that comes from being freely contactable 24/7 through social media, email, etc. And where we generally regarded other continents like Africa or Asia – countries we would consider 2nd or 3rd world countries – to be ‘far behind’ technologically; to be ‘offline’ or out of the loop – they really aren’t. In fact, in their developments they have often skipped over really important phases that we went through to get where we are now.

The best example I can think of is mobile banking in Africa, because I know more about it – whereas we consider mobile banking to be in the sense that you ring up and organise your finances on the phone, theirs is different. From what I understand, the idea of mobile banking in Africa – which is rapidly taking off and will no doubt be huge soon – is that instead of walking to your local bank, which may be miles away, you can do your banking through your local newsagent in the village, through your phone. Almost like phone credit. You can transfer phone credit to your bank and get credit out etc, all through one person in your village. I’m not sure if I’ve understood it entirely but that’s what I see to be the case. It’s an amazing idea, and all the phone companies over there are beginning to adopt that now. We have nothing like that here – they totally leapfrogged our developments in phone lines etc and created entirely new ways of dealing with their problems.

Thanks to the internet and other technology that we can’t bear to be parted with, the world is well and truly a “global village”. We’re no longer ‘British’ – we are global citizens.

Twitter as a public sphere

I often tweet about my dissertation (full proposal here) and what I’m planning to do with it, and ask for help and suggestions on how to improve it. I am in somewhat of a quandary over it and find it easier to write out exactly what it is that I am doing; it helps me to focus. And I think, given the responses I’ve had on Twitter, people are interested about what I’m doing and want to help (and also are curious about my findings), so I thought I’d write it up here to clarify it to myself and to others. [I will add to this post, or repost extra information as I go along and narrow down my aims]

The broad scope of the dissertation is how people use twitter to get news. Note: not how journalists or news outlets disseminate and spread news (ie what can twitter do for those working in the news), but the other way round (how engaging on twitter helps people to understand the world around them).

Why?

Well, I’ve had a Twitter account since January 2009 and I never saw the point of it. Around November 2010 I started using it to talk about my activism project on Twitter, and I started getting followers. I followed people who are/were heavily involved in NUS (Aaron Porter, Wes Streeting, other NUS officials) as I had originally planned on only writing about the issue of raising tuition fees. I then changed this to activism in general and… I don’t know quite how, but Twitter followers and interest in what I’m doing has expanded beyond anything I thought it would.

I personally often use Twitter to get news and find out about what’s going on. I tend to follow journalists or people I think are interesting or funny. People who I read and think “they have a point”; people I can debate with or whose tweets in some way resonate with my views and experiences.

Of course, Twitter is what you make of it and this is one of the issues I will come up against and need to allow leeway for… If you follow pop stars, you are tailoring your experience of the broader world to ‘soft’ news, gossip and (in my opinion) irrelevance. If you follow journalists, then you’re more likely to know what is going on in the world.

One of the limitations of Twitter is that although there are limitless opportunities for expanding your horizons but the experience is tailored and you pick and choose to follow people or participate in discussions. How do I know that there isn’t somebody out there who will agree with everything I think? I don’t. Twitter enables for connections between people and in small, loosely formed communities – but even then it is limited to who your friend’s friends know, or who is insightful enough to be retweeted by people you follow.

It’s the nearest thing that I can think of to a ‘Public Sphere‘ on the internet, though – a free space where citizens can interact with other citizens they might never have met in real life. Interestingly, to me it seems like Habermas’ dream – so it’s somewhat disappointing that he isn’t on Twitter himself.

What I want to find out:

How people define news. What do they want to know about? What is important to them?
Why people started using Twitter.
Do people use Twitter alongside traditional news or are they reliant on Twitter?
Are people likely to read things posted by trusted followees (but strangers), friends, journalists, or media companies?
Is there a correlation between how they use twitter and how much of an ‘active citizen‘ they are?
Is there a difference in the way that different demographics use Twitter? Is there a distinct age group that use Twitter, for example?
What do people think the future of Twitter is?

I believe that:

- The key to twitter lies in making interpersonal connections. People warm to people, not to companies or products.
- To this end, people will respond more to links that are posted by ‘trusted’ tweeters – journalists, friends, or highly-esteemed peers … Rather than relying on news outlet feeds on Twitter.
- People build up networks of ‘trusted’ tweeters. Certain people will inevitably have more influence when tweeting links or retweeting people.
- Retweeting plays a key part in the expansion of these personal networks. (Which leads to engagement in wider circles and thus the opportunity to gather more/varied information)
- People who use Twitter actively are exposed to more links and information, and therefore very clued up (active citizens). The problem lies in determining whether this is a result of using Twitter, or whether they are actively searching for news already and simply use Twitter to seek out extra information or to spread it to others themselves.

Is there anything that you can think of that might be worthwhile me investigating?

Remember, it has to be about how readers use twitter. Not how journalists/the media use twitter.

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