Rise of the Twitter Aristocrats

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When the Bolshevik revolution swept through Czarist Russia, it had the aim of sweeping away the old order of aristocratic priviledge. Fueled by the intoxicating rhetoric of Marxism, the reputation of Lenin and the murderous intent of a Stalin, the Proletarian revolution actually ended up replacing one aristocracy with another. Aristocracy, simplistically defined as privileged class with a sense (self-styled usually) of importance and superiority. Merriam-Webster aptly defines Aristocracy as “the aggregate of those believed to be superior.”

On the Nigerian Twitterverse an unhealthy trend is developing were a certain clique of persons – residing in a certain locale of the country and attributing solely to themselves ‘revolutionary and patriotic ethos’ – have assumed the airs of social media aristocrats, looking down from their ‘digital’ noses at lesser digital mortals. These aggregate believe themselves to be superior to all others, disparaging fellow citizens and organisations and dismissing alternative methods of social dissent, just because they played a ‘pivotal’ part in mobilizing the Lagos crowds during the fuel subsidy ‘occupy Nigeria’ logjam of 2012.

The role of social media in forcing the hand of government is debatable. Some have argued for, many have argued against. What is pertinent is that aside from the Arab world, Twitter and social media have rarely upended any governments. And before you shout ‘Eureka,’ remember that the famed ‘Arab Street’ have always been active, aggressive and revolutionary since before the computer was invented. The Iranians overthrew the Shah without one ‘byte’ of help. In media studies, the normative theories highlight how the media always take the colouration of the society it operates in. Consequently the Arab Twitterverse will easily overthrow a government, the Nigerian Twitterverse rarely. Like the Nigerian public, social media in this country will always mirror the fractious, parochial tendencies immanent in the larger society.

Our Twitter aristocrats see themselves as messiahs with the true gospel and the only true way, fervently backed by a fellowship of water carriers.’ They harangue and cuss, view opposing perspective as ‘haram’ and crucify any government supporter on the altar of corruption. Yet the ‘aristocracy’ is peopled with individuals with unclear histories, extreme ideologues and indiscernible motivations.

In Mass Media studies, ‘silver bullet’ theories died over 40 years ago. The media are not omnipotent but instead media effects are determined by a pot-pourri of social class, education, motivations, culture, affiliations and the plain old individual differences of the recipient. As is often said today, the media is overrated: true for television, true for Twitter and social media. That you have 5000 Twitter followers may elevate you to an agenda-setter but definitely cannot make you super-influential (nor refer to people as scum). As a change agent, the media is useful in introducing and keeping issues on the front burner, but the conversation must be engaging and encompassing for change to happen. Nobody or section of the media owns the right to the monopoly of ideas and solutions.

The advent of social media democratized media access and participation. The traditional media lost sole grip and citizen journalism came to the fore. It is unfortunate that certain citizen journalists of the new media who have been in the forefront of the social media revolution in Nigeria are ascribing to themselves aristocratic status. Have some animals become more equal than others?

 

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Twitter Nigeria: Seven years on

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Just as Twitter celebrated its seventh year last week by reeling out amazing numbers of subscribers, Twitter Nigeria marked the week with a show of robustness evident in the world-wide trending of the hilarious tweet fight between us and Kenya. Twitter might be 7 years old (established March 21, 2006), and Nigeria a somewhat late adopter but its popularity and influence is on the rise with each passing day that it is foolhardy for anybody to ignore it. In the Nigerian social media sphere, Facebook certainly still has the numbers but Twitter is now the pulse of the nation.

Twitter was set up 7 years ago by Jack Dorsey and his pals at Odeo. It did not have the classic start-up tradition of an Ivy League university campus or dad’s garage; instead it stole in under the limelight – just an SMS service to communicate to a closed group of people. Slowly but surely, the numbers kept rising until Twitter became the bane of governments, inspiring revolutions across the middle east, redefining social engagements, changing the face of PR and marketing, spawning the era of self-promotion, affecting diplomatic entente, empowering the middle class, agitating the ruling class and re-energizing social media all in 140 characters.

Like I said earlier, Twitter was slow in gaining popularity in Nigeria. A combination of low internet penetration in the mid to late 2000s, the supremacy of Facebook and the initial difficulty of mastering Twitter by first timers were the probable causes. But times have changed. The ubiquity of smart phones and Blackberrys, cheaper internet access and the fad culture has turned Nigeria into a “Twittering” giant. But most importantly, the Arab Spring, fueled by Twitter and Facebook, inspired Nigerians to stage a Twitter propelled Fuel Subsidy removal revolt and bring Twitter to the big party.

Before the Fuel Subsidy demonstrations of January, 2012, Twitter was gaining followers across the nation as an alternative to Facebook. But the subsidy demonstrations was like a shot in the arm as citizens, especially young people, sought to follow proceedings even after the nation had been shut down by labour strikes. The flexibility and immediacy of dissent in 140 characters was both refreshing and unique and the platform saw a surge in numbers. Since then the Nigerian Twitter space has become emboldened with arm chair critics, keyboard pundits, self-appointed ombudsmen, political “twitternauts,” government propagandists, customer care handles, egotistic celebrities, comedians, opinionated bloggers (read me), “wannabee” teenagers, the good folks who beat Kenya in that Tweet fight and an ever ranting Odemwingie.

The Nigerian Twitter space has moved from the margins to centre spread. It now dictates the agenda, has become a certain kind of “gallup poll” or vox populi if you like, and is now the number one destination for news. No wonder a couple of weeks ago, Google shut down its RSS services. When Goodluck Jonathan won the presidential elections in 2011, his Facebook page was the centre of his social media campaign; today Twitter is, as his media specialists battle opinions, ideas and opponents with active Twitter handles. The preeminence of Twitter was established last week when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to summon the US envoy to explain certain Tweets which the government found inappropriate. The meanness of Twitter was exposed a fortnight ago when the careless gaffe of the Lagos Commandant of the civil defence corps led to him being unashamedly pilloried.

On Twitter there is a saying that while Facebook is like a little town where everyone knows each other, Twitter is like New York, the big, crowded city, where to make it, ‘you gotta work hard.’ Twitter Nigeria is a cerebral sphere. The conversation is intelligent and meaningful. Yes, divisions are still evident. But the pulse is of a young, proud demographic, frustrated with the pace of progress, yet fiercely protective of the motherland. Ask the Kenyans.

Archimedes once said, “Give me a point to stand on and I’ll move the earth.” I say, just 140 characters, sir.

@sirwebs

 

News goes Social

“Retweets are not endorsements, they are the news.” – Sirwebs

@Jesseoguns proudly announced on Twitter that he had bought a newspaper this November for the first time in two years. Honestly, he is not in the minority anymore as more and more people access their news from the internet through websites, RSS feeds, news aggregators (read Google) and Social Media sites (Twitter, Facebook, BBM, etc). Newspapers are not the only traditional news outlets affected by the online evolution; for me the television is no more a primary source too as video feeds are all over the internet and one can, for example, catch Ibrahimovic’s wonder goal or the funeral of the slain Hamas leader at their convenience via YouTube or Yahoo to name the leading destinations.

This is old news though, what is new about news is the influence of social networking on the content an individual receives. In the old days nearly everybody received the information editors and producers published or put in the newscast, today we see or read what our friends and the friends of our friends ‘recommend.’ Newsfeeds on Facebook, Twitter and the BBM network are what the average connected person is heavily exposed to. Also most news websites from Yahoo to the New York Times have ‘social’ integration that ‘broadcast’ information we have seen to our friends. Thus the old adage, “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are,” is still evergreen and has become relevant in a post-modern world where who you follow literally determines the news you get.

The distinctiveness of news becoming social is that one can get restricted content if a person’s network is made up of like-minded people with niche interests. So once again, @jesseoguns can access the latest goings on in programming language, API’s, mobile apps etc and miss the death of say, an Olusola Saraki. Inaccuracy and misinformation is unfortunately a bane of news carried in the virtual social sphere. The BBM is notorious for spreading wrong information and sometimes falsehoods and the recent misreport of the death of Governor Suntai, in the immediate aftermath of his plane crash, was heavily influenced by Twitter and social messaging portals.  

News will increasingly become social and the concept of the ‘gatekeeper’ continually redefined. Apps like Flipboard that aggregate news from various social networks are the future. A future ‘tweeps’ like @jesseoguns can influence what is news.

@sirwebs

 

From Fuel Subsidy to a Missing iPad: The Year of Twitter

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“What do they even do on Twitter? When I tell my friends that I don’t see them on BBM or Facebook, they say they’re on Twitter.” – Anonymous

2011 year was the year of instant messaging services with the BBM the unrivalled leader. The year before it not being on Facebook was basically uncool. 2012 is undisputedly the year of Twitter. The microblogging service that allows only 140 characters was slow to take off in Nigeria for a social network site founded as far back as 2006. But in that inexplicable way in which fashions and fads rise and wane, Twitter has finally conquered the virtual social space of Nigeria, unleashing the unique attributes of the brash, bold and belligerent people of Naija – in 140 characters only. From organizing protests, crowd-funding and political mobilization, to ethnic and religious mudslinging, and getting an airline to replace a missing iPad, #Nigeria has continued to trend in the “Twitterverse.”

The utility of Twitter is such that it has become the number one aggregator of news – international and local, general and specialized and made citizen journalists of all of us; it has become the number one customer care portal with @MTN180 notoriously apologizing to someone every minute; political rallying point with the untiring @dino_melaye commanding his ‘loyal’ band of professional dissenters and the conscience of the nation with the unparalleled outcry over the #Aluu4 prompting the Police to fish out the barbarians in CSI fashion. Beautifully, Twitter has been deployed in crowdfunding to aid cancer patients and other terribly sick Nigerians in a manner unprecedented in a country with a torrid history of distrust and unrepentant internet scammers.

But for me most importantly, I see Twitter as an intellectually stimulating social media, where the conversation is always on-going and the youth of the nation – the future leaders – are getting a novel education and driving social-reengineering. This conversation is rich because of the diversity of participants which only social media can aggregate. Unlike Facebook which a has been described as a little town where everybody knows everybody, Twitter is the big city – the ‘Big Apple’ of the Social Media universe – with its dangers and delights, its @MrsGiroud’s and @Gidi_Traffic, its @ekekeee’s and @jesseoguns among a plethora of colourful, disparate and unique handles. That’s what they do on Twitter. Join the evolution.

@sirwebs

Thank You, Thank You, Thank you…….America

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The Americans have proved once more that they are the leading nation in the world. The civil, smooth and smartly concluded US presidential elections has proved that inspite of the concerted efforts of some peoples, this is not a planet of the apes. The American elections has always given the rest of the world a glimpse of ‘utopia’ and that is why the world watches the proceedings with rapt attention every four years.

Democracy has its shortcomings, but watching it being played out on the biggest stage by sincere actors, it is obvious that this is the best form of governance known to Mankind right now. Thus the lesson of the US elections is that if a people agree to work together with mutual respect and a magnanimous spirit, it is possible that the society can achieve peace and harmony. And this statement is relevant to Nigeria more today than ever at any other time.

The 2012 US elections has gone down in history as the Twitter election, evocative of how Obama leveraged Facebook in 2008 and Goodluck Jonathan last year. Social media has opened the flood gates to political discourse and most importantly energized young men and women (18-35years) to participate in politics and wield their voting power and become agents of change. This is the beauty of the social media experience.

@sirwebs