By Barrie Schooling, student in the MA in Social Media at the
Watch the video interview here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N3u4CyVStk4
Google ‘Twitter book review’ and you’ll get reviews of 1,000 page tomes reduced to 140 characters, for example “The Unbearable Lightness of Being - Beautiful and thought provoking novel of love, obsession, lust and oppression". This sort of activity, indeed every sort of activity on Twitter from the profound to the banal are the subject of a book called ‘Twitter: Social Communication in the Twitter Age’ by Dhiraj Murthy.
Having recently written a review of the book I arranged to interview Dhiraj in his Goldsmiths lab and chat to him a bit more about his work and to ask questions that might help to me critically review his work.
In ‘Twitter. Social communication in the Twitter age’ Dhiraj Murthy discusses the platform as it gives ‘ordinary’ people a medium to publish ‘user-generated “news/updates”, Twitter is a ‘social media’ where the ‘social’ is derived from the content being created by users rather than a ‘traditional’ media outlet.
Traditional media content is determined by the producer whereas the process is more democratic in Twitter. Murthy identifies ‘whoever is considered to be an expert or simply worthy of being listened to is potentially determined by consumers rather than producers’. Users can choose what information they wish to receive through the accounts they follow – ‘they can choose from a variety of sources: traditional media, individual commentators, friends, leaders in an occupational field’.
Murthy explores the notion of the ‘global village’ and other’s who see Twitter as the realisation of the global village, for example ‘fashion enthusiasts can interact with fashionistas in
regardless of where they live’.
On one hand Twitter ‘can be thought of as a megaphone that makes public the voices/conversations of any individual or entity’ but yet if the voices ‘reflect influence already present in traditional media’ then it isn’t truly a democratizing technology merely a different medium for the same messages. Murthy presents an ‘event society’ but given that these ‘trending topics’ or ‘events’ can often be a mixture of a major news story alongside a celebrity story he questions what constitutes an event? A major political rebellion is undoubtedly an ‘event’ but is what your colleague had for breakfast?
Murthy observes many changes to traditional journalism, from Twitter adding to journalists’ ‘source mix’ to historically impartial journalists giving personal viewpoints via Twitter to the idea of ‘crowdsourcing’ and he gives examples like users looking through the great volume of MP’s expenses for discrepancies.
The ‘citizen journalist’ is presented through coverage of the Mumbai bombings in 2008 and the US Airways flight that downed in the Hudson River in 2009, both of which were first reported via Twitter. Although the ‘citizen journalist’ has in the aforementioned cases been the first to report on the story Murthy presents a case for the traditional news media still being the main reference point for verification of the story.
Throughout the book Murthy is careful not to over- or under-credit Twitter’s importance to the subject at hand, be it in saving lives following a disaster. This chapter on Activism uses statistics to debunk a number of myths about the role of Twitter in Arab Spring uprisings and the so-called ‘Twitter Revolution’.
Whilst not entirely convinced about ‘revolutions’ happening as a direct result of Twitter activity Murthy does constantly note social changes arising as a result of its usage and the chapter ‘Twitter and Health’ provides one such example. Throughout the chapter we are given examples of changes (and limitations) in people’s medical advice and opinion being shared via Twitter, to new support groups forming via Twitter or to the use of hashtags to filter the usually like-minded into the similarly-diagnosed.
I’d like to thank Dhiraj for allowing me to interview him and I hope you enjoy listening to his opinions on the subject.