Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The World Turned Upside Down - Huff Post, Wash Post, and Twitter

"The World turn'd upside down"
A month or so back, I said I was bound and determined to figure out "this Twitter thing." Recent work I've been doing to promote the great Guantanamo film The Response has opened my eyes about Twitter, and a lot of other things . . .

I've been having a lot of little "Aha!" moments as I try to get the word out about screenings of The Response on Twitter. For one thing, I discovered that there is a whole group of people who are actively passing along the latest news about Guantanamo (and a whole range of other civic affairs), and they can be found by searching on Twitter. That in turn leads you to certain "hubs" who distribute and redistribute ("retweet") the news on a particular topic. The interaction between the hubs and the "spokes" allows for incredibly rapid dissemination (and *digestion*) of the right information by the right people at the right speed.

Hence, a big event for me was asking one of those "hubs," GuantanamoAndy, to spread the word . . . and within minutes seeing:

Tymlee RT @Tosfm: @GuantanamoAndy Excellent film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film category - ...

heyjude408 RT @Tosfm: @GuantanamoAndy Excel. film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film cat.- - Pls RT

Tosfm @GuantanamoAndy Excellent film on Gitmo - #TheResponse - shortlisted for Oscar in shorts film category - - Pls RT

My messages have also been faithfully re-tweeted by "Satyagraha_ji" -- who has 3,672 followers on Twitter, all of whom, one can infer, are interested in social justice issues associated with Gandhi's concept of satyagraha.

The world really is changing -- public discourse is being shaped in an entirely new way. And from where I sit, it looks like power really is getting back into the hands of ordinary people! For about the past 20 years, my sister, Elaine Scarry, has been talking about the model of Paul Revere for how we manage information in a democracy. Now I finally understand how very true that is!

Another eye-opener for me has been the way in-person meetings, blogs, individual websites, Facebook, and Twitter all interact together. To get a taste of that, just decode this Twitter post:

hoffman4IL An earnest, skeptical voter in Evanston gives @hoffman4IL a chance, and becomes a supporter: Thanks, @Scarry!

This post is by the Hoffman for Illinois ("hoffman4IL") campaign, telling its followers about a blog post ("") by me ("an earnest, skeptical voter in Evanston") describing how I became a supporter, and indicate my Twitter address ("@Scarry") at the end. Hoffman is going to be great for Illinois, not least of all because he understands how to use new media to pull people into the conversation.

But the biggest single eye-opener for me came this morning when I was trading emails with Washington Post reporter Peter Slevin. I expressed amazement at the 286 comments that people had appended to his piece on the use of the Thomson Correctional Center to house Guantanamo detainees. (That's a lotta comments!) Peter said, "Yeah, well, that one got picked up by the Huff Post . . . ."

The Huff Post? Determining who talks about an article in the Wash Post? About a issue in northwest Illinois?

The World turn'd upside down:
A briefe description of the ridiculous Fashions
of these distracted Times
By T.J. a well-willer to King, Parliament and Kingdom
London: Printed for John Smith 1646

Maybe it's because the Paul Revere metaphor was fresh in my mind, but Peter's story, and the 286 response, and the role of new outlets like the Huff Post in changing the whole game, reminded me of the history fact we learned in high school: about how at the surrender of the British to the American forces at Yorktown, the band played an old tune called "The World Turned Upside Down."

Well, if this is another revolution, I for one am all for it. (It turned out pretty good the first time . . . . )

(For more on the Thomson story, see "Why Illinois is Central to America's Response to Guantanamo.")

Related posts

I've started to organize some of the practices I've discovered, starting with the ten "guideposts" below. I'll expand on these from time to time, and hope to spur continued conversation with all of you!

(See Twitter: Scarry's Ten Guideposts )

As I read the article, I kept hearing echoes of lessons that I have been learning in the last several years as I have worked to communicate online about peace and justice issues. Herewith the top of my hit parade, with reference to stories from the USA Today newsroom . . . .

(See Social Media: If It's Good Enough for USA Today, It's Good Enough for Me )

I've realized that when we ask ourselves, "What is it that we hope people will do?" we must include an element of recursivity: One of the things we want people to do is to involve more people in doing it. In a way, that element of recursivity -- dare I say "evangelism"? -- defines what it means for people to really become part of a movement.

(See Invite More People into Activism! (Pass It Along!) )