Gaming the (Twitter) election

Last night, we did a hyper-short meeting of my large Intro Interactive grad seminar, so that we were able to go to a panel discussion on race, gender, and age in the coverage of the election. One of the objectives of the day was to get folks Twittering, and so, in about 4 minutes, I showed them Twitter and got them to sign up. As we were headed out the door to parade across campus for the panel, I encouraged them to Twitter in the panel, using the hashtag “#501″.

OK, a quick aside. Many find live-twittering events annoying, since it results in a flood of posts. Had I the time, I would have set up an alt account to twitter the event. Someone complained (protected tweet, so I will not quote) about my own flood. As an aside, this poster noted that IRC was a more appropriate way to do this. In fact, students in this course regularly use IRC (via mibbit since our campus is port-unfriendly to IRC), but I wanted to expose them to Twitter and get them using it, and so this was an experiment in that direction.

With about a dozen people tweeting, the #501 hashtag quickly popped up on a number of trend analyzers on Twitter, eventually becoming the number one keyword on the Elections page. I was pretty surprised by this, to be honest. I don’t know how many people watch that page, but I suspect it’s a fairly large number of people who are heavily involved in tracking the elections. Having “#501″ pop up was confusing to a lot of folks. Many seemed to think we were intentionally gaming the system. In fact, it was just a dozen people, many of them new accounts, twittering up a storm. If someone wanted so flood that system, it looks like it wouldn’t be that difficult.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted 10/23/2008 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Sweet! All the fun stuff happens in your 501 classes, man. First hijacking your wikipedia page to make you president of Connecticut’s NAMBLA chapter, now you’ve hijacked an elections page on Twitter.

    Personally, the part of your anecdote that I find the most interesting is that someone Tweeted you in order to tell you to move to a different communication medium. This implies that first and foremost, these services are not seen as all that similar by their regular users (assuming the Tweeter would self-identify as a ‘regular user’). And secondly, that there’s some kind of niche usage expectations which are being projected onto the different technologies. After all, why *not* use Twitter as a mobile media IRC type platform? There’s nothing preventing it. But yet, the dichotomy clearly existed enough for a ‘regular’ to get miffed.

    I wonder who’s studying stuff like that about Tweeter and what that kind of stuff means. :)

  2. Posted 10/23/2008 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    er, *Twitter, not Tweeter.
    *sigh* going home, been a long week.

  3. Posted 10/24/2008 at 9:51 am | Permalink

    For your follower who was annoyed by the volume of tweets, recommend http://twittersnooze.com/ – they can snooze you for a while. I always alert my followers before a live event and at a few points during the event.

    In terms of “gaming” twitter conversation tracking boards, I discovered the same thing when my students live-twittered the PR principles class. I know some people get annoyed, but that wouldn’t stop me. Next time I’d insert in the live stream tweets explaining what the hashtag means and where it’s coming from, so people know it’s not spam.

  4. Posted 10/31/2008 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed your discussion of experimenting w/ twitter in class. Attempting integration of new media in my classroom as a grad student and was happy to learn about your experiment. Also, am looking into twitter as the subject of study for my dissertation topic in terms of its use for political discussion. You generate great research ideas and I’m just now starting to whittle away at my very broad research interests to develop a solid (and focused) dissertation topic. So, I have been enjoying your blog of late!

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