Consumentenbond goes Twitter (and hopefully learns from it)

On: December 13, 2009
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About Sjoerd Tuinema
I'm a New Media MA student at the University of Amsterdam, carry a bachelor degree on Communication and Media Management, do design-work and am known as a notoire media junkie.


The Dutch consumers union, the ‘Consumentenbond’, wants to reach new audiences. With their monthly magazine, readers can figure out which broom or coffee machine is the best buy, often leaving out impurities of production methods (well, not always). This time, noticed by a friend, they announced a debate to be held on Twitter. The topic would be Network Neutrality and people could instantly participate by using the hashtag #downloaddebat. At first sight it looked innocent, innovative, and maybe even useful. But when it actually took off, all kinds of flaws came to mind:

  • Why wasn’t there a proper overview of who would be participating in this debate? If anythings essential for being able to discuss it’s knowing your opposition and the positions of each participant.
  • Deriving from that: Where did all the representatives go? I didn’t notice any politician or entertainment industry spokesman contributing to the debate, why bother to have a discussion with just consumers? (Of course, consumers plea FOR Net Neutrality).
  • Why Twitter? It has so many inappropriate aspects in respect to a proper debate. Real dialogue is nearly impossible due to several factors: (1) asynchronous messaging (2) following behavior: every user’s timeline differs, unless everyone knows how to find the #downloaddebat timeline, and (3) moderation is undoable because of lack of orientation.

Also, why would it be a good idea to discuss by using limited amounts of words? Of course, aphorism could be considered a poetic format in which people could express themselves, but is it useful in a debate? I don’t want to sound as a nostalgist, but aren’t nuance and elaboration two key features that mainly come to their right in a traditional debate? Maybe by using the communication platform, the Consumentenbond thinks it’s okay to have debates through mere oneliners? Or maybe they just wanted to get an estimation of the opinions across Twitter? (Why entitling it a ‘debate’ then?). It leaves me wondering what the initial intentions were with the discussion, and why Twitter would be considered a suitable platform for it.

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