Selling Obama to Generation Youtube

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

President Obama takes a conference call coordinating the response to Hurricane Sandy.

President Obama discusses Hurricane Sandy with officials (via the White House)

Two campaign advertisements help explain why Barack Obama won re-election last month. I don’t think they tipped the balance his way but the two fringe dwelling endorsements of Obama below are ingenious, neat and witty, and they say much about how and why the Obama campaign needed the youth of America.

The videos – one with the actor Samuel L Jackson who is an indisputable cool guy in any young person’s hero/anti-hero canon and the other by the comedienne Lena Dunham who is the hip young creator of the TV series, Girls – show how ways of reaching the youth vote is now critical to any masterplan to win the White House. It’s a lesson the Republicans haven’t got yet.

Here Samuel Jackson narrates a campaign ad which borrows heavily from the story of Dr Seuss’ The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Romney is cast as the Grinch and Jackson galvanises an all American family beginning with the kids into working and voting for Obama because it is time to ‘wake the fuck up’. Uploaded on Youtube on Sept 27, five weeks before election day, the Samuel L Jackson video has gathered over one million, three hundred thousand views.

Meanwhile, Lena Dunham evokes voting for the first time as a metaphor for losing her virginity. Pop that cherry but do it with someone you care about, not the other guy. She name drops the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act 2009 – the first bill signed into law by Obama. Uploaded on Youtube on October 25, the Lena Dunham campaign ad has had over two and a half million views.

There are 46 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 29. We know them as Generation Y or the Millennial Generation. These ‘millenials’ are projected to grow from 21 per cent of the electorate to a third by 2015. That’s one big bump coming through in the demographic chart. And get this; 39 per cent of all millenials identify as non-white, making them the most ethnically diverse generation ever in American history.

Past voting trends show that these young voters favour the Democratic Party. Obama’s people know this. It’s a generational advantage they have over the Republicans. They saw what happened in 2008 and would have thought long and hard about reaching the kids in 2012 who would be voting for the first time as part of their rite of passage into adulthood.

Both campaign teams are acutely aware of how social sharing is now an indelible feature of any campaign strategy. Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Youtube and SMS messaging encourages frictionless sharing. Pitch the style and message right and it will show up in people’s news feeds all over the web. The old ways of reaching youth through radio, print and television are expensive, hard to track and probably don’t even work.

Instead, make a video, make it longer than any television ad, include profanity, share it, and track its views. Social media networks are practically a demonstration of an old adage that many hands make light work.

It is now old news that Obama won another term and in the end, it all seemed to happen without a great deal of fuss. All but one of the battleground states went to Obama and there were no cliff hanging recounts and legal challenges that kept the result in suspension. How he won has been endlessly dissected. Obama mainly won because, by and large, women, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks and young people preferred him to Romney. Although the Republican advantage among white Americans increased, it was not enough to matter and Obama’s leverage with the other voter groups negated and trumped that shift.

By the numbers, the American president’s advantage among women voters held steady on 55 per cent. Among Spanish-speaking voters who are now 10 per cent of the electorate, Obama increased his support from 67 four years ago to 69 per cent in 2012. You can find this illustrated in this New York Times infographic.

And he won because the voting trends of young people favour the Democrats. Jesse Ventura, the former pro-wrestler and former governor of the state of Minnesota, gets this. He told Piers Morgan on CNN the Republicans need to change. “If you look at the demographics, the Republicans didn’t do well with young people very good and they certainly don’t do well with women so they need to look more towards positions that maybe look towards youth and more towards the opposite sex.”

While young voters still prefer Obama, it was less the case than in 2008. An economy in the doledrums, a political deadlock at a federal level and voter apathy were obstacles to a high turnout and the message of hope Obama campaigned on in 2008 was looking a little threadbare after a first term spent fighting fires inherited from the George Bush years.

Only half of young people who are eligible to vote in the United States actually vote. But Obama’s people claim that young people will turn out in higher numbers – when targeted. The Democrats also say young people are more likely to volunteer to be activists, if they are asked to. All of this makes mining the millenials such an important strategy for the Democratic Party now and in the future.

The question is whether the Republicans can effectively win this demographic group. To do so, they will need to respond to the challenge in front of them of getting more in touch with the youth of America. But we can guess one thing. The two videos above surely herald the shape of things to come in the battle to win over the Youtube generation.


Making Olympic-sized gaffes on social media

July 31, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every four years, the Olympics arrive with its outsized baggage to set up camp in a host city, while disrupting the lives of residents, changing the character of entire city precincts, and sucking in attention like only a media sinkhole can.  I should know. I lived in Sydney for and leading up to the Olympic Games in 2000. London appears no different but, interestingly, some aspects ARE different.

For each of these titanic cast-of-thousands, audience-of-millions productions, the actors change but the plot usually remains same. There are the standard stories about athletes passed over for selection, and fears over transport, security, the weather, drug cheating and empty seats.

This year, there’s a new subject that is stalking the games and will continue to shadow it in this new era of personal mobile connectivity.  The first big clue dropped during the men’s cycling road race on day one.

After numerous complaints from television viewers about confused and confusing commentary during the race, it has emerged that the volume of tweets and texts generated by mobile phone using spectators absolutely bamboozled the race organisers’ GPS information that should have accurately logged the progress of individual riders. So much so, that the International Olympic Committee issued a plea to Olympic crowds to ration their tweets and SMS messages during road racing.

Good luck with that. London has been described as the first ‘real’ social media games because of the growth of social media usage in the four years since the Beijing Olympics. The opening ceremony even went out of its way to portray British youth culture as highly connected (did you notice the touch screen props?).

Twitter says there are now more tweets about the Olympics on a single day in a week than the total number of tweets sent during the whole Beijing Olympics.

Social media and the Olympics is a growing new thing – and lessons are being learned that will apply to future games. High profile athletes are endorsing products using social media (and fallen foul of International Olympic Committee guidelines) and many are simply using it to talk directly to their home support. The majority of athletes are of a generation that has integrated social networking into their daily lives.

But for games organisers and team managers, it has become a new scenario for a potential public relations nightmare.

Has anyone warned the athletes? In a word, yes. Every team will have issued guidelines on how to use social media safely and appropriately. The last thing the team managers and communications professionals want is to go into damage control over an errant tweet or Facebook post.

It’s worth a reminder that Facebook only became public in 2006, Twitter broke out in 2007 and China’s weibo platforms only hit the mainstream in 2009.  Today, Facebook has 900 million users (compared with 100 million in 2008), Twitter has 140 million users (six million in 2008) and Sina, China’s most popular micro-blogging network, now has 300 million users.

The International Olympic Committee has issued social media usage guidelines and central to them is this directive:

The IOC encourages participants and other accredited persons to post comments on social media platforms or websites and tweet during the Olympic Games, and it is entirely acceptable for a participant or any other accredited person to do a personal posting, blog or tweet. However, any such postings, blogs or tweets must be in a first-person, diary-type format and should not be in the role of a journalist – i.e. they must not report on competition or comment on the activities of other participants or accredited persons, or disclose any information which is confidential or private in relation to any other person or organisation.

You can find the full document here. If only Hope Solo, Michael Morganella and Voula Papachristou had actually read it.

Morganella is the most recent casualty. In a fit of sour grapes after his team lost to South Korea, he tweeted the Koreans were “mentally handicapped retards”. Don’t bother looking for his Twitter account – it’s no longer available and he’s no longer available for his team’s next game.

Solo, the goalkeeping star of the American women’s football team, used Twitter to pick a public fight with a former United States international player turned commentator, Brandi Chastain, over what she called unfair criticism of the team. It’s become a distraction for her teammates because she’s become the story, not the team.

Papachristou, a Greek triple jumper, found herself going home before the games began for tweeting “with so many Africans in Greece, at least the mosquitoes of West Nile will eat homemade food”. In country where immigration has become a sensitive political issue and non-Greek minorities are under attack from far right groups, her ‘joke’ got her expelled.

Meanwhile, Australian swimmers, Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk, won’t be joining their teammates for the end of games festivities. They’ll be going home after their events – their penalty for posting photos on Facebook of themselves  posing with guns in an American gun shop.

Journalists are also not immune to social media blowback, as happened to Guy Adams, a journalist at The Independent, when he took a tilt at the official American Olympics network, NBC, over its coverage.

All of this simply heightens the need for athletes and anyone involved with the Olympics to take a 360 view of what they intend to post on social media. They must realise their posts can be seen by everyone and anyone. But as we know, common sense can only be learned and not necessarily taught.

To quote George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Like four yearly controversies over empty seats, drug cheats, transport and security, social media is now also an embedded fixture at the Olympics. It is also a guaranteed prospect to win Olympic gold for online gaffes.

Twitter shows us where rugby lives

September 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

If the Rugby World Cup is a global sporting tinderbox, then it took the Tongan and Argentinian fans to really set it alight. Although both teams lost their first round matches, the best images from the start of the tournament arguably belong to their fans.

Thirteen years ago, when the FIFA World Cup was held in France, I sat behind an Argentinian fan dressed in blue and white as an aardvark, a type of African anteater. It was the tournament’s opening game at the Stade de France and the teams playing that day were Brazil and Scotland. The memory of the Argentinian aardvark has haunted me for years. What did an aardvark have to do with Argentinian soccer?

But seeing the Argentinian fans on television dressed as pumas to support their rugby team against England, I had a realisation. What if Aardvark Man hadn’t been an aardvark? Some quick research shows that he had probably been Giant Anteater Man because – wait for it – giant anteaters are a native of South America. It was as if I had cracked the Da Vinci Code! And here’s the evidence.

Somehow though, the thought of the Argentinian football team being called the Anteaters doesn’t seem feasible. But Los Pumas is a handsome name for a rugby team and the sight of the Puma People really brought it home that yes, the Rugby World Cup had finally arrived and sections of the world are watching avidly, and many overseas fans have actually come to support their teams.

In truth, rugby struggles to be called a world game. But the tournament’s 20 teams illustrate that there is enough ‘world’ in the Rugby World Cup to justify the global billing, although, only one of the code’s five traditional super powers has any realistic chance of winning rugby’s biggest showcase. The same could be said of cricket and, obviously, much less so of baseball despite its premier tournament being called the World Series.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to use Twitter as a gauge for global expressions of interest in the Rugby World Cup. The tool I use for these kinds of rule of thumb musings is Trendsmap.

Beginning with New Zealand, the #rwc2011, #rwc and #rugby hashtags are, unsurprisingly, the most popular on our Twitter landscape and among the Pacific Island nations to our north. But that changes as we move out across the Tasman.

Hovering over Australia, the #rwc2011 and #rugby hashtags were evident especially in the eastern side of the country but, at the time of this survey, overshadowed by Aussie battler Samantha (#stosur) Stosur’s historic US Open tennis triumph in New York.

The rugby family of hashtags is also blossoming in Southern Africa, the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is also visible in European centres like Rome, Marseilles, Paris, as well as in Madrid and Barcelona (where rugby must have a following, even if there is no Spanish team at RWC2011). Rugby tweets are also emanating from Cluj Napoca in Romania and the Russian capital, Moscow.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, rugby also rocks in South America, and not just in Argentina, with tweets coming out of Caracas, Bogota, Guayaquil, Lima, Santiago and even Mexico City. There is rugby country outside Uruguay and Argentina, even if the game walks in the long shadow of the round ball. There are also small clouds of rugby tweets floating out of North America, from San Francisco, San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Toronto, New Orleans, Orlando (Florida) and Round Rock (Texas).

Less predictably, there are visible hashtag clouds over Honolulu, Nairobi, Accra and the Bangladesh capital Dhaka. Meanwhile, Dubai, with its Anglo expat population, also features like an oasis among the Gulf nations.

Where is rugby invisible? The answer is the rest of the world. Surprisingly, Japan and Hong Kong are not on the tweet map, as you might expect, given Japan’s Rugby World Cup heritage and Hong Kong’s large expat UK, Aussie and Kiwi communities. But it hardly comes as a surprise that rugby tweets don’t feature in Asia, home to a third of the world’s population (except as mentioned, in Dhaka! Go figure!). Africa, apart from South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Kenya, is also by and large absent, as is South America’s big Portuguese speaking power, Brazil.

On the big Twitter stage and a slow Twitter day, Rugby World Cup tweets are clamouring to be heard among trending topics like the new film, Warrior, and the death of New Zealand actor, Andy Whitfield and subjects like #themostcommonlies.

But the Rugby World Cup still has five weeks to run. There is still plenty of time and drama ahead for rugby fans to leave fleeting Twitter imprints that say the Rugby World Cup was here. Just don’t expect them to echo feverishly throughout the rest of the Twitter world, except in pockets of rugby country.

I often think of the Argentinian football fan in the blue and white giant anteater suit. It must have been hot under all that faux fur but at least it was a cold day. Funny to think that back in 1998, there was no way to tweet about it.

New journalism means knowing your social media

July 19, 2011 § Leave a comment

There’s a debate in journalism training about shorthand. Is this a skill that is still relevant to new journalists joining the news media? The reality is that shorthand is headed for extinction unless there’s some major industry intervention. But, while old school editors and journalism tutors may deplore the death of shorthand, the rest of the industry is much too preoccupied with survival in a Force 10 digital storm.

And let’s face it, shorthand will not be missed because technology offers so many alternatives that are proving to be as good as if not better. There are miniaturised video and audio recorders and ubiquitous smart phones that can record virtually anything. An iPad application called SoundNote records interviews as you type. Even badly type written notes can guide you to the points in an interview that you might need to transcribe for a quote.

While debate rages over whether technology improves journalism, the fallout over the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the UK shows how technology also enables where journalistic ethics fail.

One guarantee is the way journalists tell their stories has to change under the crushing weight of technological innovation. The future of news content is destined to be immersive, interactive and multi-faceted.

It follows that multi-media versatility is going to be an essential part of a journalist’s skill set and we are starting to see journalism schools increasingly incorporating this dimension into their curricula.

From a social media perspective, we’re seeing more media organisations embracing ways to share their content across the social web. But it’s also a safe observation to make that many journalists and media organisations are uncomfortable or ambivalent about using social media platforms.  You could say many journalists still profoundly misunderstand the web and are baffled why a collaborative, amateur built resource like Wikipedia works!

But those that do understand how the social web works see opportunity and recognise the game changing nature of platforms like Twitter and Facebook as an increasingly important information ecosystem existing within the digital revolution.

For the journalists that do get the mobile/social/digital shift – and even those that are watching on the side-lines – I recommend two brilliant resources that help media professionals target and locate content on Twitter and Facebook as part of the process of news gathering.

Twitter for Newsrooms is an important starting point for journalists who are new to Twitter and those who think they know it all. There are tips on using Twitter’s advanced search form to get narrow and defined results to help with any story. It is so useful for scanning breaking content when the Twitter stream is a flood of spontaneity that is being throttled on your Tweetdeck.

For finding older tweets, there’s Topsy which allows journalists to go back in time to view Twitter traffic in a given time frame.  Also incredibly useful is information on how to link directly to an individual tweet. If you’ve had sleepless nights trying to figure how this is done, here’s how.

There are also a number of Twitter partners that provide ways for news organisation to visualise or curate Twitter data about particular news stories – a terrific way to demonstrate the impact of a story on Twitter and by extension on internet traffic. I started with Mass Relevance, a tweet curatorial service, and there are many others out there.

Facebook searches are another way to find public content. Searches can be carried out in group, page, event or people categories and also in posts by people, friends and groups. People’s privacy settings determine what is in the public domain and is means Facebook lacks the capability to really amplify content the way Twitter does. But Facebook users can message others even if they are not friends and this is a useful information circuit breaker.

Twitter and Facebook searches and techniques are becoming an essential part of a journalist’s skillset. Journalists will also need to pay attention to emerging social media platforms like Google+ and there are other platforms like Quora and HARO (which is an acronym for Help A Reporter Out) that help journalists find answers from potential sources. I have used HARO and I can see its value (although it can be hit or miss) as a regular way to source opinions or comment on issues from a global pool of social web savvy respondents.

Every journalist needs to understand that Twitter is not a passing fad and Facebook is not just a way of talking privately among your friends. The accumulated online babble might be deafening but by skilful manipulation of search criteria, social media platforms are essential, information-rich resources. Journalism might be losing the struggle to keep shorthand but the profession has no choice but to join the rest of us on the social media street.

Malaysian activists turn on Protest 2.0 strategy

July 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Scenes of a large protest march on the streets of Kuala Lumpur and the ensuing police crackdown have been astonishing for outsiders and Malaysians alike. It’s a rare thing for Malaysians to take such direct action in defiance of their government.

Demonstrations are not tolerated by the authorities and are not a characteristic of the country’s multi-ethnic, politically passive society – at least until recently.

What also helped to amplify the noise of the July 9 protest was the considerable ownership the organisers gave to participants in order to incorporate mobile and web elements.  This strategy, together with the hard line taken by Malaysian authorities against the demonstrators, has helped project the Bersih 2.0 movement beyond simply a march for political reform.

A deepening mood of anger and unhappiness with the Malaysia’s government and political system has been measureable on the internet for many years now and frustration with government corruption and cronyism is now being translated into the kind of direct protest action witnessed on the streets of the capital on Saturday.

Organised under the Bersih 2.0 banner by over 60 non-governmental organisations, the protesters had gone head to head with a government ban on the protest and the ensuing clashes turned the streets of Kuala Lumpur into scenes more akin to Bangkok or Vancouver as riot police fired tear gas and arrested over 1600 marchers.

Bersih means clean in the Malay language and is a reference to the movement’s call for cleaner government and political reforms. Some observers say the Bersih movement gets its inspiration from the Arab Spring pro-democracy movements. Although Malaysia has regular elections, the country has been ruled by the UMNO party since independence in 1957 and there’s frustration that Prime Minister Najib Razak is not implementing a reform agenda.

Assessing the size of Saturday’s crowd, as an important indicator of the movement’s support, has been problematic. Independent journalists say the march numbered over 10,000, the police claim there were about 5000-6000 demonstrators and the organisers say over 50,000 people participated.

But it becomes difficult for the pro-government news media to assert low numbers when images like these are being shared on the social web by the demonstrators.

Many citizen photographers like Melissa Sasidaran also shared their live images in running photostreams.

While the organisers can also claim the threat of a government crackdown kept many people at home, they can point to the large volume of mentions on Twitter, Facebook as evidence that the protest had a much larger footprint than just what occurred on the ground.

The alternative Malaysiakini news website posted minute by minute updates of events in Kuala Lumpur. Demand on the day was so high, it had to post this message on its homepage:

The extremely heavy traffic to Malaysiakini today has made the website almost inaccessible. We are providing this stripped-down version for the benefit of our readers.

This video posted by Malaysiakini on YouTube shows police firing tear gas at demonstrators.

Bersih organisers also promised simultaneous rallies in Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, France, Switzerland, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Here’s the New Zealand Bersih 2.0 Facebook page and this is the New Zealand Herald’s coverage of the Bersih rally in Auckland.

Here’s a tweet from the equivalent event in Melbourne:

Other Malaysian Twitter users tweeted:

Singapore’s The Online Citizen offered its support on its Facebook page with photos of the Bersih rally in Singapore.

The march was also streamed live on WWITV, as another alternative for Malaysian netizens to see an event that the state media might aim to minimise.

Politweet, a service that observes “the Malaysian twitterverse” aggregated Bersih tweets as a raw record of how things unfolded.

Watching the social media feeds and user generated content on July 9 allowed many Malaysians watching in Malaysia and elsewhere a real sense of what happened that day and offered them ways to get involved. The 2.0 suffix emphasised the movement was as much a digital one as a street protest.

While both sides, the government and the Bersih 2.0 movement, will try and claim success for what happened on the streets of KL on July 9, there appears to be only one winner on the social web.

If you are reading this in Malaysia, let us know if you also saw it this way.

Watching journalism’s social media divide

June 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Most media organisations have made the change to the digital world but there’s an evident tension about the social web that keeps many editors up at night.  This conflict at the heart of journalism in the digital era reveals itself in stories by journalists about journalists.

There’s constant debate within journalism about the future of journalism and that’s a healthy thing. One of the most fascinating discussions going is how should the news media adapt to constantly changing technology and popular social media platforms.

It’s too simplistic to call it an argument between the digital natives and the digital dinosaurs. Most journalists I know have embraced the internet although many traditionalists scoff at Wikipedia as a news resource and deride the amateur driven social web.

Take this recent story by New Zealand Herald media journalist John Drinnan which is instructive for revealing the kind of tension that exists in the news media around social media.

When TVNZ’s Saturday morning current affairs programme featured an interview with Phil Goff, political editor Guyon Espiner channelled chatter on Twitter in a searching interview of the Labour Party leader.

Espiner said: “Ok. I’m already getting feedback in my ear from the producer saying people are Twittering and emailing us at the moment saying, ‘Hey, we want to know what Labour’s going to do.’ Would you restore this programme? This is what our viewers are saying. Can you give them an answer, Mr Goff?”

Drinnan, who may well be a social media sceptic, made it clear from his story, which also sought the views of journalism and media studies lecturers Jim Tully and Donald Matheson, this was a risky practice. He wrote “a fascination with social media is creeping in to all media as growing legions of readers, listeners and viewers spend more time online”.

Both Tully and Matheson pointed out that journalists needed to be cautious in referencing comments made on social media because of the dangers of anonymous or unidentified sources. Matheson said journalists needed to be more literate about social media and warned against the impulse to use social media as barometers of public opinion.

All of this just highlights that natural scepticism and objectivity are disciplines that journalists should apply in how they go about prosecuting a story. To say journalists are at greater risk of coming unstuck by referring to comments on Twitter smacks of getting things back to front.

If journalists repeat what they see on Twitter and present it as a true and accurate reflection of an issue then there’s a problem with journalism, not with social media. It also overlooks the qualities that make Twitter, well, Twitter.

Twitter works for its users because it is instantaneous and spontaneous. It can also be flippant or serious minded, phony or factual. Despite what Drinnan says, this isn’t about how “twitterers” want a piece of the traditional media but how the traditional media needs it to meet increased audience expectations of being allowed to participate. Isn’t the ability to interact almost the whole point of the web?

What Guyon Espiner did in his interview with Phil Goff was hardly a hanging offence. He referred to Twitter and email feedback as a nod to the programme’s online audience and to give a live immediacy to the interview.

While it was a tentative attempt by Q&A to embrace a more participatory ethos, it is a sign that some journalists and news producers understand the big lesson the internet is teaching us. We the audience are just not as satisfied as we used to be with a medium that broadcasts at us. The media many of us are integrating into our daily lives is a more spontaneous organism that grows on participation and mass amateurism and the evidence can be found all over the web.

Fight! Ryan Giggs versus Twitter users

May 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’re intending to leak the identity of a famous celebrity in defiance of a court ruling or suppression order, don’t expect Twitter to defend your right to challenge the law under the guise of freedom of expression.

In what is proving to be a high profile legal case but not without precedent, British lawyers representing Manchester United player Ryan Giggs have taken legal action against Twitter to compel the California-based social media platform to hand over details of tweeters who have defied a privacy injunction preventing the publication of the football star’s identity.

It is the latest flow on effect in a row that has blown up over claims of an affair between the Manchester United veteran and reality television star Imogen Thomas.  Giggs’ lawyers convinced the High Court that a gagging order was necessary to protect the footballer’s privacy and reputation, and on April 14, a privacy injunction was issued.

This has been a red rag to a bull, especially to those angered that the woman in question was being pilloried but a footballer with millions of pounds could employ considerable legal resources to hide his identity. Then there were those simply in love with celebrity gossip but the upshot is that within days his identity was no secret on Twitter.

After a month of Twitter gossip, if there was one speck of doubt left as to the identity of the footballer, British MP David Hemming used parliamentary privilege to open the floodgates for the news media. He named Giggs to highlight the futility of privacy laws when by his estimation 75,000 people on Twitter had already breached the injunction. This allowed journalists to report Giggs, who is married with two children, as the celebrity accused of infidelity although Hemming has been accused of abusing parliamentary privilege.

And as a backdrop to the ensuing and confused media circus, the gagging order remains in place!

It’s all a big legal mess but one that Giggs’ legal team intend to use to make an example of a representative number of those that flouted the injunction, and in a symbolic way claw back some of the privacy ground that has been lost to social media. Central to this strategy is to get Twitter to comply with British privacy and media laws.

Schillings, the firm representing Giggs, is seeking a court order known as a Norwich Pharmacal order that could force Twitter to reveal the name, email address and IP address of a person or persons behind an anonymous account that has attracted over a hundred thousand followers for revealing a list of prominent people who had taken out media bans to keep their affairs secret.

Other tweeters also face the possibility of a legal action for outing Giggs as the player in the Imogen Thomas case. Britain’s Daily Mail has spoken to this tweeter who faces the possibility of being fined, having his assets seized or even going to jail for breaking the cloak of court imposed secrecy.

The social network’s general manager of European operations, Tony Wang, said last week that Twitter would respect British law and that people who used Twitter to break the law would need to defend themselves. In other words, Twitter would not shelter individuals who use anonymity to defy privacy rulings.

Twitter’s legal counsel Alexander Macgillivray later used Twitter to clarify the company’s privacy policy: “Our policy is notify users & we have fought to ensure user rights. Sadly, some more interested in headlines than accuracy.”

One interesting feature of the case is that it is not ground-breaking. Twitter has already complied in this precedent setting case in which an anonymous British man used Twitter to libel a local authority using a series of anonymous Twitter profiles so it would have come as a huge surprise if they were to decide otherwise.

Twitter will also be mindful of a number of considerations. It has plans to open an office in Britain to chase advertising and there’s a reputational risk if it falls foul of British law. It will be concerned about developing its reputation as a mature and responsible business, not an outlaw beyond the territorial jurisdiction of nation states.

But what hasn’t emerged yet is if there will be a user backlash against Twitter.  A public relations consultant and Huffington Post blogger Mario Almonte told SMNZ that it would be bad public relations for Twitter to comply too readily. “It would be a bad PR move for Twitter to immediately comply – it’ll leave a very sour taste. Twitter will need to drag its feet and defend its users’ right to privacy, using whatever arguments it can muster.”

Almonte predicts that Twitter shouldn’t have to fight for too long. “The public backlash against Giggs will be tremendous that – if he is smart – he’ll call off the lawyers. Celebrities behaving badly and having affairs with attractive women – once exposed – need to just grit their teeth and let the feeding frenzy blow over.”

Post script: You may remember the Taiwanese anime news service NMA and their animated rendering of the Tiger Woods story that went viral. Now here’s their take on the Ryan Giggs affair. Same issue, different sports star.


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