Commentary

So, That's What Twitter Is For

It was a pleasant surprise recently to find Moldova, one of the saddest of all the former Soviet Republics, making the front page of the old media New York Times.

And of all things, it was a Web 2.0 article. Turns out there was a rigged election to bring back a Communist regime and the youth won't have it. They are gathering in the main square and Twittering their discontent. It's probably been 10 years since any wire service bothered to show up in this minute backwater and yet Moldova is everywhere. The government shut down cell service, Internet access is hardly universal there, but information technology wins.

I have a very personal connection to events like this and to the place in general. I was a "worst case scenario" media development worker in places like Bosnia, Belarus, and most extensively Romania. I actually taught media how to survive through, shockingly: advertising. For the many who do not remember the geographic spoils of WWII, Moldova was fashioned out of a chunk of Romania and Stalin forcible moved in a lot of ethnic Russians to help sever connections. Moldova lately seems to only make the media in stories about prostitution in Western Europe -- the place is known for supplying the bulk of purchasable women in hot spots like Prague and Istanbul (don't believe me, Google "Moldova" and two of the top options are "women" and "girls"). None of these media programs bothered with Moldova: it was just too poor and too hopeless -- worse even than Belarus which has a Russian puppet dictator.

Moldova may be impoverished, but it does have young people who have experienced the freedoms of the west and the empowerment of modern technology -- they were probably your waiter in London or the bellhop in your Paris Hotel and like many of us are a bit underemployed these days. Underemployment leads to lots of social networking...and suddenly you have mass movements about things other than computer games.

I've been a constant head-scratcher about Twitter. It's too jittery, gossipy and overall TMI. It's as annoying as the Facebookers who tell me what they're eating for dinner, and I think the authenticity is quickly being taken over by PR spew. Yet, in this case I get it: it's instant information that news sites and even blogs cannot match. Of course there is no telling how reliable any of this is, but the sincerity and the immediacy of the posts from the main "piata" (pronounced just like "piazza") come through http://pman.cloudapp.net/. There is a lively debate going on about what should and should not be done, updates on government crack downs of media -- they've been denying the entrance of foreign journalists to the country and Facebook is now blocked there. Protesters are also claiming they have peaceably invaded the old media outlet: the state television network.

I usually confine my writing online to topics involving advertising, and yes, there is a connection here. Think of this development in light of the massive breast beating going on over the death of the American newspaper and what that will mean to freedom of information. I'll bet that Moldova doesn't have much of a newspaper --people are too poor to buy them and there isn't much of an economy to support them with advertising. So how are people getting information? Surely not through state television, but through Internet access and micro-blogging.

In this instance, I do hope that Twitter gets that Google buyout or some kind of business model. Advertising can and should support freedom of information and freedom from censorship. In the west we have lost all connection between advertising and democracy. Let's hope we find that connection in time to keep platforms that encourage debate alive.

The revolution will not be televised...it will be Twittered. Anyone want to sponsor that?

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4 comments about "So, That's What Twitter Is For".
  1. John Grono from GAP Research , April 22, 2009 at 8:27 a.m.

    I'm not sure what version of Google you're using Kathryn, but when I Googled "Moldova" I got maps, tourist photos and guides, Wikipedia, the CIA Fact Book ... the usual stuff. Is this behavioural targeting at work (hehehe)?

  2. Kathryn Koegel from Primary Impact , April 22, 2009 at 9:32 a.m.

    It's not in the search results but in the box of most common queries for the term that appears as you type: 2.3 million queries for Moldova girls...

  3. Katie Morse from Ripple6 , April 22, 2009 at 10:02 a.m.

    This reminds me of the tweets I saw during the bombings in Mumbai.

  4. Sarah Grant from adMarketplace , April 22, 2009 at 2:49 p.m.

    Twitter's a continual mystery - everyone tweets, but who is listening? And, more importantly, what do you listen to? It illustrates the problem of too much media available on the internet diluting what you actually "hear." It's refreshing to see that groups can mobilize awareness about something meaningful, and cut through the stream of consciousness white noise. But that begs the question - how to pinpoint occurrences like this one that deserve attention. Are we left to rely on old media like the Times signaling what should be heard?