Turkey’s political decision to blackout Twitter

Will the revolution be tweeted in Turkey even though the prime minister has decided to block the microblogging service Twitter? It sure looks like it. However, it seems to have backfired big time as this Twitter map of the hashtag #TwitterIsBlockedInTurkey shows:

An upside of this political decision is, that it has in my opinion increased the digital literacy among the Turkish people. They had to learn about proxies, VPNs, anonymous surfing, and other work-arounds to gain access to Twitter, read about what the world outside thinks about the developments and keep posting to Twitter. In a world where physical access is no longer a hurdle, digital literacy – know _how_ to access content and understand cultural differences of social networking sites has become an important issue. As one of my friends reports from Turkey,  this article on Mashable.com has become an important source to teach people how to reconnect or stay connected.

Even though the Turkish president (who mostly has representative functions) had to sign the law prime minister Erdogan put forward, he himself kept tweeting and posted a memorable update condemning the blockade of social media platforms (translation: “Closing of social media platforms can not be approved of.”

In the past, EMPA students from the Turkish prime minister’s office, other cabinet offices, and the presidential office attended my social media classes at the Maxwell School. Looking back at our class conversations I am still surprised – and I know I shouldn’t – how little political power the president has and how much his office focuses on representative aspects. My students from both offices were eager to learn how to use social media in professional ways to support their bosses, but it was also clear to me that the political elite represented in the classroom was disconnected from the technological and cultural developments surrounding social media. A fact that I also observe when I talk to high-level public managers from other countries or the U.S.

While this certainly does not justify the Twitter blackout, I do believe it is an important factor to understand why government officials may feel threatened by a free and open online conversation they can’t control. The result is that they are oftentimes surprised by what is now called leaks of their own behavior and learn about it when issues are starting to be covered in the press – bridging the boundary between online conversations and mainstream media attention.

Calgary Police’s Twitter account displays #SMEM best practices during #yycflood

During the floods in Calgary, Canada, this weekend, the social media manager of Calgary’s police did a fantastic job answering questions, diffusing rumors, using social media to pull in additional information from citizens, point people to volunteer opportunities, and to activate officers to work extra shifts via Twitter. It was important to get information into the social awareness streams, where citizens were looking for information they were not able to get access to through regular government communication channels (like the emergency phone numbers). The Calgary Police added the Twitter hashtag #yycflood to every tweet they sent.

And then a remarkable thing happened, that I haven’t seen in any other context so far: After sending out hundreds of tweets, the police has reached the tweet limit per day and had to stop updating the public.  They had to work with Canada’s Twitter representatives to expand the rate limit:

The news spread rapidly and was labelled by some as a major fail in emergency management, which indicates the reliance on resilient communication infrastructures that people trust and turn to in crisis situations.

In a pretty genius stroke, the police redirected their official communication through the Twitter account of their own Digital Communications Officer, Jeremy Shaw, who took over tweeting from his personal Twitter account on behalf of the official police Twitter account:

After a few hours the account was restored:

Responding, directing, informing, calming down, diffusing rumors:

Recent social media experiences of first responders and utility companies have shown, that citizens need to know that they are heard, that their issues are taken care of and that help is on the way during a crisis. Cst. Jeremy Shaw tweeted with them through two long night shifts and did a fantastic job handling repeated requests for information in a very calm and polite way.

Here are some of the tasks the Calgary Police Twitter account was able to fulfill using Twitter as a parallel and resilient communication infrastructure, while the formal communication channels were used for live-threatening situations and to direct first responders to the scenes.

1. Dealing with volunteers

In a very polite way, volunteers were informed that the police did not want to put them in danger and prevented them from showing up on the scene:

2. People were pointed to alternative information sources, such as the city’s frequent blog updates:

Or the utility company’s updates:

And also that other reliable sources people had trusted were temporarily not available:

3. Assuring people that officials are listening, that they are being heard

It looks to me as if every single citizen tweet was responded to, either by directly answering a question about the flooding situation in a specific area or even just to thank people for their feedback. An important direct lifeline, when all other channels are overwhelmed.

4. Asking officers to work extra shifts:

Off-duty officers were asked to work additional shifts and were asked to check in:

5. Asking citizens to verify updates on the ground

I was also happy to see that the police was open for citizen first responder reports and updates, however I only saw one tweet of this sort. The potential is obviously enormous: Some of the reporting responsibility can be distributed across the shoulders of citizens who are observing impact first hand. It’s impossible for one social media manager to fullfill all these different roles. I believe what the Calgary Police did was smart: They focused on direct feedback and on providing the lifeline that obviously many citizens needed at this point. They also served as a connector among many different first responders and different information sources. Adding on the task of pulling in citizen reports to this role is almost impossible: The sheer volume of incoming information needs to be automatically processed and directed. For future purposes, they could use other types of reporting platforms such as SeeClickFix to monitor impact or automatically analyze impact similar to USGS’ Internet Intensity Map.

6. Diffusing rumors to avoid panics, lower anxiety

Here is an example of promptly responding to the rumor that a dam broke, but I also saw a few updates in response to concerned citizens who were worried about a rumor that the zoo had to kill its animals:

Or diffuse rumors about looting:

“Sede Vacante” replicates real-life events on the Pope’s Twitter account

Pontifex_SedeVacante by inesmergel
Pontifex_SedeVacante, a photo by inesmergel on Flickr.

On February 28, 2013, pope Benedict XVI, stepped down and vacated his chair – literally. The pope who had just recently started to tweet also vacated his Twitter account. This symbolic gesture had an impact on the Internet community. While people were still watching the pope emeritus arrive at his temporary home at Castel Gandolfo (the summer residence), Twitter moved all his existing tweets to an online archive on News.VA:

Pontifex_SedeVacante_TwitterArchive

While these events had a Dan Brown novel taste to it, what the communication and public relations folks missed behind this move is that the pope has actually build an online community on Twitter with over 1.6 million people who actively want to receive updates. They ignored the significance of a community that trusted the online relationship the pope created with them through a medium that they prefer over other media.

New article out: “Connecting to Congress: The Use of Twitter by Members of Congress

Abstract:

How do political elites, such as the Members of the U.S. Congress, decide to use innovative forms of Information and Communication Technologies, such as social media applications? Communication between elected officials is guides by outdated rules and regulations that are focusing on paper mailings. The apparent lack of formal guidance and outdated rules are not reflecting the changing online landscape and the requirements on Members of Congress to interact with their constituents where they prefer to receive their information. New forms of highly interactive online communication tools, such as the microblogging service Twitter are challenging the existing information paradigm. Using the first year of tweets posted by Members of Congress in combination with qualitative interviews with congressional offices show that the Members are mainly using Twitter to complement their existing push communication style and automatically distribute vetted content via Twitter, using the Microblogging service as an additional communication channel for their individual appearances and issues. The awareness network among tweeting Members specifically shows that the potential for interactive conversations are not harnessed. Finally, Twitter’s potential as an innovative mode for future democratizing interactions is discussed.

Suggested citation:

Mergel, I. (2012): “Connecting to Congress”: Twitter use among Members of Congress, Zeitschrift fuer Politikberatung – Policy Advice and Political Consulting, 3/2012, pp. 108-114.

Link to the open access version on the journal’s homepage.

The social media dance around the VP pick

On Friday night the news broke, that the Romney campaign was planning to reveal the vice-president in a live TV covered event at 9:05am the next day. Within a few hours however, all major news-outlets stated “Mitt Romney picks Paul Ryan”. There was no question mark, no speculation. Only these plain statements – quoting sources close to the campaign.

Online, there was however very little indication on 8/9/12 that the information was leaked: The USA Today/Twitter Election meter showed negative sentiments towards both candidates at an all time low (since #Twindex data was revealed to the public): Obama 20; Romney 12. This number was stable until late Saturday evening when the Twitter index was finally updated – which seems to happen only once per day: Obama 32; Romney 39.

As a result, people were buying shares for their favorite veep pick, Paul Ryan on the Intrade prediction market. Ryan was favorited by 95% of the buyers:

On Saturday morning social media came into play. Romney’s Twitter account officially confirmed his pick – even before he went on stage in Norfolk, VA:

An hour later, Paul Ryan’s newly established Twitter account confirmed the news as well:

The account name “@PaulRyanVP” was initially not verified by Twitter and it took the company a few hours to add the blue checkmark to the account. As a result the followers jumped up from a handful to several thousands. Controversy around the account’s name eluded people to the fact that Paul Ryan already labels himself (or let’s say his campaign team labels him) VP = Vice-president. People are asking legitimate questions, as the following tweet by Chris Geidner shows:

Romney campaign aide Beth Myers confirmed in a statement to the press, that Romney had already made his pick earlier in August, after he returned from his first visit abroad. She presented the campaign’s strategy on how they kept the decision under wraps right after the announcement to the press.

@140Elect reports that the @PaulRyanVP Twitter account was created on August 2, 2012 which confirms that the VP decision has already been made weeks ago. It is unclear however why the campaign chose to reveal the candidate two weeks later, on a war ship at a time when only half of the country can watch the news at 9:00am on a Saturday morning.

During the exciting events of the day, other social media tools were ignored by the campaign.  As an example, the iPhone app “America’s Comeback Team” did not inform its users as advertised. Instead, the screen stayed blank even after the world heard the announcement, as this screenshot from Anthony De Rosa shows:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twitter was also the first place where the campaign’s logo was revealed – on @PaulRyanVP’s account:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Romney campaign clearly had their sight set on Twitter and ignored Facebook – the Paul Ryan Vice-President Facebook account was established just an hour before the official announcement.

At the end of the day, the futures markets weren’t impressed by the Vice-President pick. As an example, the Iowa Electronic Market for the 2012 US Presidential Election Vote Share Market still lists a win by the democratic candidate at 60%:

@Twitter Political Index

The next 100 days count – and Twitter is counting our sentiments and online interactions to gauge the potential outcome of the presidential campaign in the U.S.: Today, Twitter launched a new site called the Twitter Political Index. According to the Twitter blog, the @gov team is analyzing the +2 million tweets every week to understand how the nation’s Twitter users feel about President Obama and his challenger Romney.

The index represents:

a daily measurement of Twitter users’ feelings towards the candidates as expressed in nearly two million Tweets each week.

Twitter teams up with USAToday’s election team and Topsy to display the sentiment results in the newspaper’s Election Meter. The sentiments are measured on a 0 to 100 scale and everything above 50 is coded as positive sentiment. A sliding scale lets users go back in time and shows sentiments including their related historical events (such as important visits, or speeches):

Adam Sharp, Twitter’s head of news and social innovation (@gov), shared some of the ideas and analysis mechanisms on NYT’s Timescast on August 2. Asked how Twindex represents the American public, he responded on Twitter:

 

I was interviewed for our local channel 9 News to talk about #Twindex: PollstePollsters using social media sites to gauge popularity of candidatesrs

Related articles:

Twitter transparency report released

Twitter released its first Transparency Report highlighting the number of times they received:

The report shows that the U.S. government has asked Twitter 679 times to reveal user information since January 2012, followed by Japan with 98 and Canada and the United Kingdom with 11 requests each. All other countries listed in the report asked <10 times to reveal user information. In response to government requests to remove tweeted content, Twitter removed content 0% of the time.

Following Google’s transparency report, Twitter submits all requests to @ChillingEffects in order to keep the tweets flowing and ultimately protect freedom of expression online: