Two days ago, after our weekly visit to the farmer’s market, we passed by the park in Strathcona, and witnessed a ‘vote mob’. Today is election day in Canada, and in a few hours from now, the fate of this great northern land will become clearer, or perhaps murkier, depending on who wins. This campaign has been played out in the social media world almost as much as the real world, fervently lead by a group of young people from BC who started a movement to discredit and ultimately give the boot to current PM Steven Harper. Their facebook page and corresponding site http://shitharperdid.ca.nyud.net/ contains information, videos, links and resources examining the politics and values of the Harper Government. Whether you agree with their message or not, you must admire the research, energy and dedication that has been shown by this group and their community of almost 37,000 followers.
What makes this election even more interesting is that Canadian youth have been accused of political apathy. According to Elections Canada estimates, in the 2008 federal election, 58.8 per cent of Canadians voted, the lowest turnout ever. The voting rate for youth aged 18 to 24 was even worse, at only 37.4 per cent. So far, in this current election, apathy seems to have turned to activism, encouraged by celebrities such as Rick Mercer whose now famous final rant for the season issued a call to the youth to make their voices heard and their votes count.
Yesterday, the world received news of the death of Osama bin Laden. Curiously enough, with his official announcement of this successful strike against terrorism, Obama might have diverted attention away from the recent ‘birther’ controversy. And while we’re on the topic, one of Obama’s video responses to the birthers went viral, with over five million views on YouTube. Unintentionally stealing Barack’s thunder, a computer programmer in Pakistan was actually the first to notify the world of the attack on Osama, tweeting “Uh oh, now I’m the guy who liveblogged the Osama raid without knowing it”. Within hours, there were more than 2.2 million mentions of Bin Laden on Twitter, more than half of those in the USA. Twitter reported the highest sustained rate of tweets ever, averaging 3,000 per second, during a surge that lasted a duration of four hours. Without doubt, social media has exploded past cyberspace into a new stratosphere.
Meanwhile, two days prior to the Obama/Osama double act claiming the spotlight, the Royal Wedding of Will and Kate drew an estimated 22million viewers. Cell-blocking technology was installed inside Westminster Abbey to prevent social media zealots from broadcasting the ‘intimate’ nuptials. Fortunately for monarchists and fans of romance, pomp and ceremony, that royal decree only applied to those invited guests inside the hallowed high ceilings of the Abbey. Meanwhile, outside among the commoners, the statistics tell a story of royaltweet mania. There were 2.7 million mentions of the royal wedding on social media outlets over the 24-hour period, with a majority (94.7 percent) featuring on Twitter. More than 55 percent of the social media mentions originated in the United States, compared to less than 17 percent in the United Kingdom and 3.2 percent from the antipodean subjects in Australia. Tweet volume was heaviest in London, New York, Toronto, New South Wales and Paris. One wonders whether Osama’s death will continue to usurp the status of the happy couple in the social media kingdom and indeed, what will be the next event of world significance to send traffic spiking. The front page of the Weekly World Edition of the Daily Telegraph provided a bizarre juxtaposition of both events: ‘”The wedding got bigger play, but the two stories turned the front page into a kind of global symbol for the twin poles of fluff and grit, hard news and soft, that make up today’s journalistic world.”
Apparently, the beatification of Pope John Paul II happened sometime in between these two earth-twittering events, but given my views on the Catholic Church, I won’t waste any more characters on that.
So what to make of all this? Should we even give a tweet? Based on the events of the past few days and indeed, first few months of this year, I’m starting to think that social media has awakened a few sleeping giants or at very least, equipped people with a communication tool that allows them to express, connect and feel that they are informed and heard. Who knows, tweeting and texting might one day prove to be the antidote to apathy. Through the networking powers of social media, the ripples emanating from a single voice or a collective movement can be far-reaching, rapidly gathering momentum and influencing outcomes that might never have eventuated. It’s encouraging that like-minded people can express their solidarity with those who live in distant lands that they might never visit. Granted, too much attention is often devoted to trite and superficial subject matter. Case in point, the ‘trending’ topics on twitter included the royal kiss and some hashtag titled QILF (I shall leave it to you to decipher the acronym). No wonder that little flower girl was frowning and blocking her ears.
In the midst of this social media revolution, it’s reassuring that people still gather in public parks, chant anthems of resistance and march in the streets, dressed in colours and carrying placards that identify their allegiance to a real person, cause or belief system. We can only hope that tweeting will continue to serve as an adjunct to this very palpable revolutionary spirit, and never replace it with a temporary artifice of caring and connectedness. I would like to think that we can accomplish so much more when we ‘show up’, engage with others and make our presence felt in person. I suppose time and the tweet-deck will tell.
Breaking news: #tweettheresults on the Canadian election, beat #Osama to be the top trending hashtag in the world. At least Canadians can find some happiness in that result.