Twitter vs. Established Media: Gatewatching, Information Dissemination and #OccupyLSX
A summary of paper presented at the DMI Winter School Mini-Conference, Amsterdam (January 2012)
Twitter is a social media platform where users’ messages can take flight, gain elevation (RT function), achieve direction (@ function), and be grouped together (# function) like a flock of birds or a murmuration of starlings.
Broadly speaking, the paper examines how information is disseminated on Twitter. More specifically, it examines the extent to which Twitter can be situated as a “gatewatching” body (Bruns, 2003). It also asks if it is possible for regular individuals to become influential in the Twitter conversations or does Twitter simply produce another “another arena for already established societal actors” (Larsson and Moe, 2011, 2)? A case study of the Occupy protests at the London Stock Exchange, and the narrative of erroneous media claims that the majority of the protestors’ tents were being left empty overnight, is used as a lens through which these questions are answered.
Using the Digital Methods Initiative’s Twitter Analytics Tool, tweets tagged with the #occupylsx hashta were collected and queried with specific search parameters. The analysis is divided into two sections: The first section examines the day the ‘empty tent’ claim was first reported (25th October 2011), and when the claims were ‘officially’ debunked’ a couple of days later provides the second analysis (28th October 2011).
Larsson and Moe (2011) suggest “there is a pertinent need for empirical studies to examine if and how such services [e.g. Twitter] contribute to a broadening of participation in public debate, and to what extent it merely serves as yet another arena for already established societal actors” (2). In terms of the latter point, this study suggests several things: First of all, one doesn’t necessarily need to be active in conversations to be influential in them. However, a strong follower base (both online and offline) helps one become influential. The difference in the sheer volume of tweets between the two days suggests that scandal involving the established media rings the dinner bell for the ‘Twitter wolves’. While as an individual a Twitter user may feel frustrated and inconsequential, there is evidence to suggest that as a collective, Twitter does have the capability to act as a sentry watching the gate of news production.
The full paper can be viewed here