Twitter as an Instrument?

Foto: Underground Mosque Yogyakarta, by Jean-Marie Hullot

Text: Michael Anranter

As we wanted to examine the changing of peoples political identity (see Engin Isin) throughout social networks, we established a catalogue of questions which referred to the political situation in egypt and the impact of Twitter as a group building platform. The questions itself had been prapared carefully by choosing hashtags and by adressing them towards one of my collegues, which actively took part in the #egypt #revolution, as well as in the recently struggles on the new egyptian #constitution.

In general we designed questions which gave us the opportunity to research the single participants positioning on Twitter. However we didn’t get enough interaction in order to answer scientific standards. However the failure of our experiment allows a couple of assumptions.

First of all we needed to re-evaluate our hashtgs because of temporally and further external dimensions of the determination of #hashtags. Given that attention at december 2012 was mainly paid due to the constiution building process in egypt, most of the activists did no longer refer to #Mohamed #Mahmoud within their tweets. As the limitation of 160 characters does not allow too many hashtags, it’s well considered to react fast on #hashtag #trends.

Second the networks plays a grave importance. While we first postet our tweets from an account which haven’t been involved into the egyptian revolution, we partly changed our strategy in a second round. By using more common hashtags and within a well-established network of former and actual activists we managed to get some retweets and likes. Because of her physical presence in Cairo, #Egypt @SarraMoneir was able to deliver both: A wide-spread network as well as an insight into recently used #hashtags. Still we haven’t been able to get concrete answers to our questions.

#Twitter is not a common instrument to interview other people, and therefore we needed to accept that people do not willingly react on questions. The positioning within #networks and groups occurs through publishing statements and the frequence of followers, retweets and citations. On the other hand we should consider that many activists react circumspective on questions aimed at a specific topic. Because of antecedent activists prosecution by the police, people regard outsiders with a certain degree of suspiscion. The point is, that an unsuspected questionnairy throughout #Twitter might be difficult, because the lack of confidence which might be eliminated only by a long-term involvement.



The assumptions should be researched in further twitter contexts in order to get a comparative framework. However our experiences give us the chance to rethink and add modified survey designs for further anthropological research and knowledge on the usage of Twitter in the web.



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