Tagged: twitter

What’s Good About Social Media?

(An Unintentional Treatise)

I’ve been working on a few new projects this month which have brought me back into the web world. From time to time I get burnt out on web design, but lately I’ve been enjoying being a code monkey.

In both cases, I’m completely redesigning websites that have suffered from benign neglect. In some ways, it’s like cleaning a dirty house – there is a certain amount of satisfaction one gets from seeing everything put in its place. The text gets dusted off and freshened up, the broken links get swept away like cobwebs.

What’s changed from when I first started designing websites is that now there is such an increased emphasis on integrating social media and distribution channels. Not that Facebook or YouTube even existed when I first started coding HTML, but back in the day, adding links to IMDB for films was a perk, an extra. Today it seems almost mandatory, and I’m thinking that it is not so much that the technology has changed, but rather that the public’s expectations have.

Social media is one of the ways in which users can make sense of the internet’s vast overwhelmingness. Years ago, Wired magazine put out a poster which mapped out most of the websites that existed on the internet. It was about the size of a movie poster when unfolded, and there were actually spaces in between all the listings.

Today, if an editor proposed mapping the web, it would lead to uncontrollable laughter or hysterical tears. There is just too much information out there, which is why search engines have become such an important battleground for tech companies.

Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and widget-based platforms allow users to tag, categorize and customize information and have it delivered to them in a method of their choosing. E-mail alerts, news feeds, and sharing links are not new, but they way that they have been integrated into web-based platforms have increased their prominence.

I used to work in a movie theater, and we had regulars, like most places. With certain people, I knew what they were going to order before they had finished buying their ticket. If they arrived late, I could have a cup of coffee with cream and a small popcorn ready by the time they got inside the lobby. I might be able to tell them about an upcoming film because I had a sense of what kind of movies they liked to see.

Social media at its best can operate in the same way, by anticipating our needs or alerting us to new things that we may want to know about based on our past preferences. It’s not only a time saver, but it gives us a sense of familiarity, of home on the web.

Of course, sometimes social media is poorly understood by its creators, too heavy handed in its execution, and ends up seeming Big Brotherish to the end user. It’s basically the difference between offering the user a bite to eat and force feeding them a sandwich.

So far, I’ve written about ways in which technology allows us to customize what is essentially a passive experience. However, I’m much more interested in the ways in which blogs, news feeds and technologies like Twitter have added an active dimension to web surfing.

When I was in grad school, I was very interested in the dynamics of media distribution. (I know, I’m a hopeless geek.) TV and radio, I learned, were a one-to-many model, with viewers getting their information from a centralized source.  According to theorists at the time, the internet was supposed to be a game changer, allowing consumers to “talk back” to their media in a whole new way.

This was hardly my idea of a utopian media environment. I didn’t want the ability to tell the TV networks their programming sucked, I wanted to create my own network and distribute my own content. Unfortunately, having a web page in a sea of web pages is like trying to give a speech in a crowded room where everyone is talking. Only people with bullhorns or microphones get heard, and on the internet, large corporations and media conglomerates were the ones with all the bullhorns.

Blogs have become the technological equivalent of a battering ram, able to break through the artificial barriers that separate the amateur from the professional. It is most apparent in the political sphere, where upstarts from Talking Points Memo or Daily Kos are now given entry to White House briefings along with well-marinated reporters like Helen Thomas.

Recently the New York Times had a hilarious article highlighting the tension between old and new media in the fashion industry. The reporter profiled bloggers -mere kids, for that matter – who had such a following that they were outshining fashion industry luminaries from Vogue and Elle. One blogger from the Philippines (gasp!) was even seated a few seats away from Anna Wintour at a D & G fashion show in Milan. I’m afraid the barbarians are at your velvet-trimmed, Swarovski-encrusted gates, my dear!

What we’re witnessing is the beginning of  a media upheaval, a re-balancing of power in which information is not a closely held commodity to be doled out to the masses in pre-digested chunks, and the conversation is not limited by viewpoints favorable to corporate interests.

The technological upstart Twitter was initially derided by old media (“Using Twitter suggests a level of insecurity” said the UK’s Times Online). It was, however, one of the primary ways that dissidents within totalitarian Iran could quickly communicate and coordinate in the days following what many viewed as a deeply flawed election.

Citizen journalists have been some of the harshest critics not only of the banking mismanagement which led to last year’s economic crisis, but also some of the most dogged investigators of the TARP program which was meant to speed economic recovery, but seems to have primarily ensured that many banking executives got their bonuses on time.

Social media has been maligined by the mainstream media as a forum for trivialities and ego-driven babble. And although it can be that as well, the technologies that are all lumped together under the social media umbrella can be powerful tools for activism, journalism and civic participation.

It is about more than sharing pictures of Hannah Montana, or any other artificially manufactured pop tart, it can be about telling truth to power. Ultimately, it depends on what you do with it.

Twits on the Right: Responses and Conclusions

Being new to Twitter, I recently decided to spend a few days following some of the right wing tweets, primarily those with the hash tags #gop and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter). As an unapologetic liberal, I thought it might be easier to stomach right wing commentary if it came in snippets of 140 characters or less.

After a week of following conservatives, conspiracy theorists and wingnuts on Twitter, I’ve gotten fed up (and a bit bored) at some of the more obvious bits of misinformation and venom I’ve encountered. So I decided to have a little fun with some of the repetitive and mindless posts to keep myself entertained:

RockwithBeck tweeted: “I remember, no too many years back, everyone said the Democratic Party was doomed. The GOP is getting stronger day by day.“* I changed it slightly to read: “I remember everyone said the Dem Party was doomed. Now they say the GOP is getting stronger day by day.” then re-tweeted.  Made more sense to me.

Another bit of scaremongering had to do with an upcoming Islamic conference being held in Chicago. IndyEnigma tweeted: “WHAT IN THE HELL? Islamic Supremacist Group Holds First U.S. Conference“*.

I changed the published link in this tweet to one discussing Pat Buchanan’s ties to a white supremacist movement, then sent it back out. For this, IndyEnigma has now become a follower of Rev. Hugh’s. None of this would be possible were it not for inattention mixed with technology like tinyurl.com that shortens lengthy URLs (thereby masking their origins).

A week ago, there was a dust-up between Sen. Barbara Boxer and a witness from the National Black Chamber of Commerce, Harry Alford. For days after the confrontation, Alford (rightly or wrongly) became something of a right wing media cause célèbre, and the video of their exchange has been promoted repeatedly as “evidence” of Democratic racism.

To be perfectly clear, I have no problem with people taking offense with Boxer on this, but I do find it ironic that a) most of the highly indignant tweets on this story are being spread by – judging by the photos – caucasians and that b) these are the same people who are also attacking President Obama with such vitrol and racial animus. So I re-tweeted MarissaGordon‘s message “Don’t let Boxer slide on her racism! No American should be treated like this!“* and added this URL, in which the Southern Poverty Law Center discusses some of the uglier racial attacks against Obama.

To me, it seems that the right wing are scrutinizing every one of Obama’s comments, looking for a way to score political points. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) recently said as much – that half of the criticism of the health care bill is politically motivated. I personally think the number seems a bit low.

Consider the President’s recent press conference, where he commented briefly on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates in Cambridge. Less than twenty-four hours later, right wing twits are shrieking indignantly, characterizing his mild comments as “anti-Police bigotry on the left”.

“Gates spewing racial hatred at a police officer got him arrested. Obama throwing the race card at it was despicable”* I have no doubt that if the ethnicities of the two groups were reversed, the wingnut reaction would be drastically different.

In defense of Twitter, political tweets can be an effective way of spreading stories or ideas via attached URLs. Tweets can also be, depending on the poster, mindlessly absurd and hopelessly uninformed. (Reminding me of the old saying about someone who knows just enough to make them dangerous).

For example, wingers are shocked, indignantly posting a waterfall of tweets about Obama saying that he wasn’t familiar with a passage in the House healthcare bill (still in committee). Twits hold this up as proof that the President is frighteningly out of touch or that the legislative process is spiraling out of control.

However, why should the President read every rough draft of the House’s thousand-page bill before it’s finalized? It is hardly a damning statement by Obama, an admission that he will never read it, or an acknowledgement that he plans to sign the health care bill into law without knowing what the substance of the it is – unless you’re a paranoid wingnut fearful of encroaching socialism.

One twit, who describes himself as a “Conservative. Capitalist. Always learning, thinking, innovating” was just today asserting that “it should be an eye-opener that China has a better handle on our economy and its well-being than our own president and congress”*. When I asked him to substantiate his tweet, he responded “Even the communists know we need capitalism” and that “even China understands what the ramifications of this socialist agenda will mean for America if it continues.”*

I tried repeatedly to get him to cite even one source that supported his assertions, but he wouldn’t engage on substance. His final tweet was “Unfortunately you don’t have the capacity to absorb and understand all that is happening. I hope you enjoy your “hope & change.””*

The last refuge of this breed of conservative twit seems to be that their arguments are just sooo advanced that poor liberals simply don’t have the capacity to understand.

Fed a constant diet of right wing spin from FOX, talk radio and conservative websites with no balance or counterpoint, I can’t say I’m surprised. The mingling of spin and half-truths has made the American conservative movement proudly ignorant and intellectually lazy.

Twits on the Right: Day 4 – Spinning Themselves Dizzy

Being new to Twitter, I recently decided to spend a few days following some of the right wing tweets, primarily those with the hash tags #gop and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter). As an unapologetic liberal, I thought it might be easier to stomach right wing commentary if it came in snippets of 140 characters or less.

The strongest and most vehement opposition to President Obama and his policies come from what I call Rapture-ready Republicans. The basis for their dislike (some would say hatred) of the President is not fact-based, but is a stubbornly held belief that Obama is an anathema to all that is American.

When one looks at the top conservatives’ posts on Twitter, and follows the links provided, as I’ve been doing for the past week, a picture emerges of a highly entrenched group of well-intentioned but fearful people led by a smaller group of people who seem to exist solely to fan the flames of hatred – whether it be racial, cultural or political.

I am obviously over-simplifying a broad swath of the population, and there are certainly other dynamics at play on #tcot and other Twitter hangouts. However, the main drivers of right wing discussion in the Twitterverse are actors and reactors – those who post stories and links, and those who repeat (or retweet) them.

The actors, those who stoke the fires of anger and dislike among the base, rely on a steady stream of inaccurate and misleading articles on the web. The reactors’ role is to either parrot the original tweets unquestioningly or to dutifully follow the links and consume.

As with the birthers I wrote about yesterday, if one looks at their assertions with a critical eye, or simply bothers to fact check, the theories are almost 100% hyperbole, about as solid as tissue paper.

Some examples stemming from the current health care legislation debate:

Hurray for gov’t health care. UK’s death sentence for 22yo liver patient.”* Link

Anyone who passes away in Canada or the UK is now being held up as a “victim” of socialized medicine. Since everyone dies eventually, cherry-picking the most sensational examples provides “stokers” with a regular source of outrage about the dangers of national health care systems.

Obamas Plan Would Repeal Medicare if you or someone you love is a senior, get them busy!“*

Link offers no specifics or language from any healthcare legislation, only speculation about “likely” outcomes, fearmongering about rationing of services and comparisons to Canada’s system.

Oh, and the authors are hawking a book. Related tweets linking to an article in the NY Post by the same authors:

Ensuring Insurance For Illegal Aliens, While Rationing #Heathcare For Everyone Else In America“*

Health Care Bill Outlaws Private Insurance, Benefits Illegal Immigrants“*

Many of the healthcare-related tweets carry a simple message, that Obama’s plan will grant coverage to other “undeserving” populations by taking it away from you, your family, and the elderly. Taking fear-mongering one step further, some twits claim that there is an eugenic element to the plan, aka DEATHCARE in wingnut speak (and almost always in all caps).

Tweet directed at Glenn Beck: “Will O-care really become a form of adult eugenics based on cost and economic/genetic value of an individual to society?“*

It demonstrates how poorly informed the fears are that I frequently encounter tweets worried about eugenic campaigns against the elderly. Since eugenicists historically are concerned with selective breeding, focusing on senior citizens would have zero practical impact since they are generally past reproductive age.

Other strawmen trumpeted in the twittosphere suggest that Obama will repeal the Second Amendment, that the current Hate Crimes bill will lead to discrimination against Christians, or that Obama spent more than 18 months campaigning, and spent millions of dollars getting elected just so that he could destroy the United States.

No, no, you don’t underSTAND, Obama’s goal IS to ruin America then to bankrupt America.“*

Some of these tweets can be easily disproved by a simple Google search or with common sense. Other assertions are harder to prove or disprove, since they hinge on the poster’s (unproven) ability to read minds or foretell the future. So if presenting factual information isn’t the primary motivation, what is the point?

Many tweets provide links to websites that are selling products, so greed is certainly one motive. For $3.95 you can have a piece of paper proclaiming you a “czar”, promotes one twit.

Other tweeters hype the sensationalistic aspects of stories as a way of driving traffic (and market share) to wingnut icons like Glenn Beck, G. Gordon Liddy or Rush Limbaugh.

Conservative politicians are also using Twitter to communicate with their rabid base, no doubt steering donations to their campaigns in the process by constantly reinforcing the idea that they are an entrenched and oppressed political minority.

And living in some Red Dawn-styled fantasy, these twits cast themselves as the only ones standing between the United States and its destruction.

Next: Responses and Conclusions

*Actual tweets

Twits on the Right: Day 3 – The Birthers

Being new to Twitter, I recently decided to spend a few days following some of the right wing tweets, primarily those with the hash tags #gop and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter). As an unapologetic liberal, I thought it might be easier to stomach right wing commentary if it came in snippets of 140 characters or less.

A recent tweet to Sarah Palin, presumably from a legal expert: “Applaud and love your family. But if we joined, we could challenge Obama eligibility and incarcerate him. Then you r VP“*

In conservative fantasyland, the line of Presidential succession apparently runs from President to his losing political rival, skipping over the Vice President, Speaker of the House, etc. And if you lie about your place of birth, it means you immediately go to jail (where you are no doubt waterboarded).

The conspiracy to enable Barack Obama to become President is incredibly vast and far reaching. It must have begun the day Obama was born, in 1961, and involved doctors at the hospital as well as Hawaiian newspapers, the state government, Obama’s aunt and a major international airline and their staff.

Why can’t Obama satisfy/answer people on his eligibility?? That would solve all curiousity. Is there something to hide?“* Short of holding Obama’s placenta, I don’t think anything will satisfy the most rabid conspiracy theorists…

BOMBSHELL: Obama’s Eligibility to Serve as President in Question & Before the Supreme Court“* Link provided to Fox News blog created by navymom, which says “Along with the evidence that he was first born in Kenya and there is no record of him ever applying for US citizenship“. Of course, that could be due to his already being a US citizen, but then, that would be too easy an explanation.

Obama’s parents were apparently so sure that their child would one day win the presidency that they secreted their infant son from Kenya (where birthers claim Obama was really born) to the United States and working with the hospital staff, newspaper editors, etc, falsified his birth certificate and birth announcement. The airlines also would have had to suppress any record that Obama and his parents flew from Kenya to the US that year.

It doesn’t matter that a number of different organizations and websites (Fact Check, Politico, Snopes) have disproven all of the birthers’ and their lawyers‘ assertions. The birther rumor mill has become a self-perpetuating cottage industry, and any crackpot (and I’m being kind), white supremacist or Lou Dobbs willing to offer “evidence” in exchange for publicity is welcomed. Witness:

On Twitter, questions about Obama’s place of birth are the crazy glue holding together a number of false assertions, bad assumptions and anxious rumors which, together, form a wingnut alternative reality.

It is Tinkerbell’s pixie dust, giving conservatives hope that Obama will eventually be impeached and his policies repudiated, if they only believe hard enough.

* Actual tweet

Next: Spinning Themselves Dizzy

Twits on the Right: Day 2 – Good vs. Stalinism

Being new to Twitter, I recently decided to spend a few days following some of the right wing tweets, primarily those with the hash tags #gop and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter). As an unapologetic liberal, I thought it might be easier to stomach right wing commentary if it came in snippets of 140 characters or less.

Day 2:
Curmudgeon and professional conspiracy theorist Jim Robinson, founder of FreeRepublic.com, is, unsurprisingly, widely read and quoted by top conservatives on Twitter.

The unlawful federal government’s takeover of the financial, banking and insurance industries was just a prelude to the planned complete unconstitutional Marxist takeover of all of America“* is how he opens one of his newest rants.

(FreeRepublic is also the site where posters were making derogatory comments about President Obama’s daughter Malia this past week, and a forum where James von Brunn, the Holocaust Museum shooter, posted.)

Confusion between Marxism and equal opportunity is commonplace among conservative twitterers. As with Robinson, Communism, Marxism, and Fascism are all interchangable epithets, and quite popularly used to describe any number of Democratic initiatives, including health care, the stimulus package, the upcoming census and more.

If one were to believe conservative tweeters, Obama is basically Karl Marx 2.0, and sleeps with a little red book under his pillow. Some samples:

Hey Obama, I want to be clear. We don’t want your marxism, America says you gotta go.” The provided link goes to an article “proving” Obama is a Marxist mole. The basis for this? Obama is a “secret smoker” and thus must be hiding other secrets. And when he was ten, Obama associated with someone who was identified by HUAC as a Communist.

(Discussing the OnStar system) “Did I already post that Marxism wants to control your car when Constitution 4bids?“*

Another attack on the “rich” – surtax to pay for health plan. Can U say  MARXISM?“*

No re-education camp for me! George Washington would not learn communism/fascism/marxism/socialism to get along! Freedom is not free!”* (Nevermind that these political theories didn’t exist until well after Washington’s death in 1799. The poster seems threatened that people are merely being asked to learn about communism, etc.. Ignorance is patriotic!)

One person supplies a link to his blog post “Marxism in America – Evolution or Conspiracy?” which identifies the three “Communist Rules for Revolution”, which to me seems awfully simple and easy to accomplish. Who knew?

  1. Corrupt the young. Get them away from religion. Get them interested in sex. Make them superficial; destroy their ruggedness.
  2. Get control of all means of publicity
  3. Cause the registration of all firearms on some pretext, with the view of confiscation of them and leaving the population helpless.

Marxist yet? I guess the fourth step is a spontaneous reorganization of the country to benefit the proletariat, and total redistribution of power and wealth. Easy.

One of the more disturbing Obama-as-Marxist memes seems to be that the President is stoking the flames of racial hatred in this country as part of a grand Marxist conspiracy: “Anti-capitalists are typically called Marxists, aren’t they? Didn’t Marxism use USA race relations to foment class envy and hatred?”*

From what I’ve seen, it is the right wingers who, motivated by fear, are stirring up racial hatred. The anti-immigration/Minutemen/English only movement, attacks on ACORN, efforts to end the Voting Rights Act, and intimidation tactics used at the voting booth are but a few examples of conservative campaigns to fan the flames of racial animosity in the United States.

The prevailing attitude of conservatives on Twitter seems to be that life is so much easier when you don’t need to bother understanding public policy or even political philosophy. It’s better to just reduce everything to a battle between good and Stalinism.

*Actual tweets

Next: the Birthers

Twits on the Right: Day 1

It was easy to dismiss Twitter as yet another flash-in-the-pan technology until I read how young people in Iran were using it both to communicate with each other and to organize protests in the days following the Iranian elections. Convinced me that there was something compelling to it despite the hype, I signed up.

Being new to Twitter, I decided to spend a few days following some of the right wing tweets, primarily those with the hash tags #gop and #tcot (top conservatives on twitter). As an unapologetic liberal, I thought it might be easier to stomach right wing commentary if it came in snippets of 140 characters or less.

Day 1:

I set up an account as Rev. Hugh Pokrit, a ridiculous alter-ego that I’ve used on and off again since grad school to (hopefully) provide a uniquely humorous perspective on political issues. One of his first tweets references the health care reform bills being debated in Congress:

If #healthbill passes, Armageddon is sure to follow! Flaming leeches will chew on our entrails! #GOP be warned! #tcot http://bit.ly/ta5vm

During the course of the day, Rev. Hugh gets about ten new followers, including Karl Rove and GumboNinja, a “computer science grad student, gamer, book addict and general dork” who complains about the “joos” and worries that the Black Panther party is taking over this country.

In fact, many of the tweets I read are fear and paranoia based in the extreme  – people worrying that somehow Obama’s healthcare reforms will lead to everyone’s premature death, that the government plans to track everyone via GPS chips (“Census workers are GPS-tagging your front door. Remove your house numbers!”*), or that Sotomayor’s confirmation will lead to the government outlawing all guns.

I start to worry that my character may be taken seriously after spending a few hours following #tcot.

One of the more puzzling tendencies that I observed was the inability of some people to identify logical inconsistencies in their own reasoning. For example, the Sotomayor was denounced over and over again as a racist, yet I read very few negative tweets about Buchanan’s rant on the Maddow show, or about the election of Audra Shay, who seemed to support a friend’s comment on Facebook that [we]”need to take this country back from all of these mad coons”.

All the conservative icons are represented. Along with Glenn Beck and Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin has a number of  followers and detractors on Twitter.

Palin is undoubtedly the darling du jour of the far right, and conservative tweeters are (justifiably) upset at some of the nasty and misogynistic comments that have been directed at her. One outraged tweeter posted a link to her webpage, which compiled unflattering images and rude remarks about Palin and other delicate conservative women like Ann Coulter and Michelle Malkin.

Now, I have read many similarly nasty comments directed at liberal women via Twitter, especially Sen. Nancy Pelosi, who seems to be a lightning rod for conservative ire. (“Can anyone slap a the ‘shit eating grinn off Pelosi’s face’? Her entire face is glued on by ‘super glue’. PLASTIC” *) I have yet to see any conservatives in the Twitterverse post even the gentlest of rebukes against such comments. Apparently, hate speech is acceptable as long as it is directed at liberals or President Obama.

*Actual tweets

Next: The battle between good and Stalinism

#fail: Leveraging Social Media Effectively

Mainstream news media run the risk of being ignored to death.

They are shrinking not because they are no longer profitable, but because they are adapting to new technologies and the internet so tentatively while ignoring the basics. And readers are finding them less and less relevant as new media sites mature.

They see themselves as newspapers with a website, not a web/print news outlet. Or they choose scandal and sensationalism over depth and understanding as a way to attract higher ratings. Worse yet, they scale back their offerings to maximize their advertising revenue. Meaning less hard news for viewers like me.

In contrast, PBS‘s website gets over 200 million page views per month precisely because they have chosen a different path. PBS opts for depth – creating comprehensive web pages linking to digital versions of (text/video/audio) historical documents, and providing background for the issues they cover on television.

Corporate journalism desperately needs to regain its currency and its self-respect. No democracy can survive without an informed electorate. News outlets need to fulfill their responsibility by bettering the quality of their product, and by using new technologies in a smarter and more considered way.

Blogs have evolved from online diaries into an indispensable and multi-varied web format. Blogs are perspectival; seeing the world through the likes and dislikes of the author, and form affinity groups around a subject. Readers expect to have some way to interact on a blog. They don’t expect objectivity as much as they do a personal voice.

More news outlets should consider having a high-profile journalist be their point person on a select subject, giving them the resources and support to moderate and maintain a living, growing home for their topic. Someone who has demonstrable mastery of their subject. Think Juan Cole curating/moderating a multi-media, multi-author blog solely focused on the Middle East with video updates broadcast on CNN.

News orgs should be creating issue-based websites – reporting all there is to report about Sudanese pirates, or Swine flu or health care reform. Let it become a continuously growing storehouse of information, moderated by a demonstrable, and universally recognized expert, or group of objective experts who are more concerned with accuracy than spin. Give it maps and interviews (audio and video), graphs and archives. Have the same host synopsize the same information in traditional media outlets, and give it some attention.

Too often media outlets are using new technologies in either a “me too” way, or in ways that don’t make sense. I don’t want to read about reality stars on a news page. To me, it’s off topic, not synergistic.

As I write this post, the Iranian post-election drama is rapidly playing itself out. Twitter’s #iranelection is for now the g0-to place to find out what is happening inside the country from a first person perspective. The Huffington Post is also doing a decent* job of covering events by setting up a blog page with frequent updates, but you can’t beat the immediacy and unfiltered quality of hundreds of tweets directly from residents of Tehran.

Part of what makes Twitter as a media form so vibrant is a user’s ability to simultaneously and organically create hash tags, like #iranelection as a way of tagging a post. As more and more people adopt the same tag to discuss a subject, a community forms. To me, it feels like getting SMS messages aggregated into RSS feeds grouped automatically by subject.

Another example of the power of social media comes from Josh Micah Marshall’s Talking Points Memo. During the Bush Administration, the government often did document dumps of potentially embarassing information on a Friday night, which meant that a working journalist had to either sacrifice their weekend to wade through reams of paper, or wait until Monday to start making sense of it.

As a way to combat this tactic, TPM has at various times asked its loyal readership on a Friday night to help then comb through a huge amount of information. Readers have responded enthusiastically, filling the blog’s comments section with thousands of posts offering excerpts and page numbers from the documents in question.

For a small operation, having an instant volunteer research team  saves an immesurable amount of time and money, and as a consequence, TPM has been able to digest huge amounts of info and formulate a coherent story about the contents far earlier than any corporate media outlet.

In the past few days, another hashtag, #cnnfail has been popping up quite a bit on Twitter in relation to their coverage of the Iranian elections. Though this may just be a perception, people interested in this topic felt that CNN’s coverage fell short, in part by not covering events fast enough. There is an inherent danger to adopting a technology but then using it badly.

Don’t misuse your media:

  • Tweets are great for quick alerts and can be used to give recievers a link to a just-published article.
  • Blogs themselves are better suited to the drip, drip, drip of an unfolding story, as long as viewers can easily search through past articles (use tags!). Having a strong narrative voice in posts, making sense of the various threads of an issue, is also highly important.
  • Blog comment sections, when focused, can be a great way to track and coordinate collaborative efforts. Excellent way to fact-check.
  • Web galleries are essential for articles about visually interesting subjects. Having a text-only report about a new architectural wonder or fluorescent monkey is inexcusable.

*Where the Huffington Post Iran blog falls short is by not having a persistent sidebar with pictures, a concise history of Iran and the government’s structure or even a link to Wikipedia. As time passes, this page will just become another overwhelmingly long and unreadable document.