Egypt turmoil catalyst for innovative use of social media

February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

I learned two things as I followed the tumultuous events in Egypt. I’m not talking about whether social media can end a 30-year-long dictatorship or whether Twitter and Facebook can mobilise an angry mob. I suspect the respective answers to both questions are maybe and yes.

I’m also not going to offer an opinion on the efficacy of social media as an amplifier of social unrest and anti-authoritarian anger; but as I watched news about Egypt ravel in on Twitter, I saw how two innovations can link internet users more closely to a news event happening in a different hemisphere.

Promoted Tweets are paid for by an advertiser who buys individual search terms or several related ones to form clusters. For example anyone searching under the following hashtags #egypt, #jan25, #cairo, #tahrir, #aljazeera and #mubarak would see tweets like these from Al Jazeera English or @AJEnglish appearing at the top of their search results.

Al Jazeera continues to bring you uncensored coverage of the events in #Egypt as they unfold. Watch LIVE here: http://aje.me/ajelive #jan25

Clashes between anti-Govt and pro-Mubarak protesters in #Alexandria – coverage live on #AlJazeera: http://aje.me/ajelive #tahrir #egypt

Intrigued, I searched for other Promoted Tweets and came up with this one from @TacoBell, appearing at the top of searches on #tacobell.

President’s beef with the #Beef Class Action Suit – watch his video message to set the record straight http://bit.ly/presvid

Here’s a @pizzahut Promoted Tweet found by searching for #pizza:

The new Big Dipper pizza has arrived! 24 dipping strips + 4 cups of marinara = one delicious pizza that I might be willing to share.

Both Pizza Hutt and Taco Bell advertise fast food and they’ve been using Twitter as the new advertising medium since the social media platform began commercialising its service in April 2010.

The difference with Al Jazeera is that it’s using Promoted Tweets to advertise its coverage of a news issue, and selling itself as an Arab-owned news organisation that can get viewers and readers closer to the story than other global competitors such as Fox News, CNN, Sky News and BBC.

Al Jazeera is unavailable to US cable television viewers because it is regarded (quite unfairly) in the United States as having a pro-Islamic bias. It seems likely that its clever use of Promoted Tweets for latest headlines and live streaming links will in future be copied by other media organisations wanting to corner coverage of a particular news issue.

It’s also seen a huge increase in traffic to its website since the crisis in Egypt began. Online streaming traffic grew 2500 percent during one 24 hour period, 60 percent of this traffic coming from the US.

Speak2Tweet is a service set up by Google, Twitter and SayNow specifically for Egyptian people to record phone messages that could be linked to a tweet. It is designed to allow offline people to counter the Egyptian government’s internet and mobile phone shutdown and allow them to communicate with the outside world.

Listening to the voices recorded on Speak2Tweet is a life-affirming experience. While most are naturally in Arabic, hearing the voices allows us to imagine what it must be like at the end of that landline. I heard two messages in English expressing fears for what might come afterwards if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled, poignantly reminding us that in Egypt there is opposition to the opposition.

Days before Egypt, came Tunisia. One of my favourite tweets asked when it would be possible to check in to a riot, or for that matter a protest to overthrow a despotic ruler or a clash with government security forces. Perhaps this is something foursquare could work on?

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