Archive for the ‘social networking’ tag

Hashtags Represent the Future of the Linkable Web

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When Dick Costolo succeeded Evan Williams as the CEO of Twitter, the social network blogged about the occasion with a post entitled “#newtwitterceo”. This is an example of a new kind of link—the hashtag—and its popularity is growing rapidly. The #-symbol (a.k.a. “number sign” or “pound”) introduces the form, which precedes a term or phrase, often without punctuation or capitalization. A search for #newtwitterceo only returns results with that specific tag, far more relevant than a search for “new Twitter CEO”. Twitter encourages using hashtags in this way. They represent a new form of link for the social Web, pointing not to a specific website, but often to a larger topic or thread. Some writers have been quick to specify the hashtag’s dos and don’ts, or to discourage its use. Others have recognized its potential to attract a larger audience. New websites have been founded with the sole premise of pointing users to the best hashtags.

In 2007, Chris Messina suggested the pound symbol be used for organizing groups via Twitter, and ever since hashtags have allowed tweets to show up more easily in search results. The form underwent mission creep, and now serves many functions, the most prominent being adding additional context to a tweet. It can reveal the speaker’s tone. It’s almost like an aside, a whisper from the tweeter to the reader. For example, Mitt Romney tweeted: “Only in @BarackObama’s world is it an “economic positive” that Americans are giving up hope and leaving the workforce #clueless”. With only 140 characters to make a statement, the added context can be particularly valuable.

The hashtag has leaked from Twitter into the wider Web. Twitter has officially supported hashtags since 2009, and other websites have begun to do the same. Regardless of official support, hashtags are common on popular social networks today, including Facebook, which has led to some confusion about what exactly they mean. This has, in turn, created a niche for new services which explain the meaning behind the tags. Much like URLs, they can serve as guideposts for navigating the vast soup of content generated every day by the millions of users worldwide.

The usefulness and applicability of hashtags have brought the form beyond the Web and into popular culture. Hashtags have appeared in advertising (including the Super Bowl), Comedy Central’s Roast of Donald Trump, and as a recurring gag on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. They can also guide professionals (e.g., lawyers) networking and researching online. Hashtags seem to fill the niche left by AOL keywords of yore. They provide an easy-to-remember shortcut—a way of connecting us through the web without unwieldy URLs. However, they are also user-generated and are capable of expressing and connecting the ideas of many. As Internet communication becomes more complex and more personal, the popularity of hashtags is likely to increase. Going forward, an understanding of hashtags will be important for up-and-coming professionals on the social Web.

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March 20th, 2012 at 2:53 pm

The Value of a Twitter Follower

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These Are My Followers

Well, I think they are, anyway.  Litigation over the ownership of a Twitter account is pending in the Northern District of California right now.  Here are the facts of PhoneDog v. Kravitz.

Noah Kravitz was hired as an independent contractor to advertise for – he appears to be have been successful, garnering over 17,000 followers.  When he quit working with PhoneDog, he changed his twitter handle from @Phonedog_Noah to @Noah_Kravitz; he kept the followers.   While phone dog sued on four grounds, the most interesting claims are those which require a damages valuation.  How much is a Twitter follower worth?

In much the same vein, litigation (Eagle v. Morgan) over a LinkedIn account is ongoing in Pennsyvlania.  The plaintiff in the case, Eagle, formed a partnership which was later purchased by Sawabeh Information Services.  The plaintiff then shared her LinkedIn account with the new company.  After she was fired, she claimed they continued to access her personal LinkedIn account, meaning they had access to her virtual rolodex.  For an in-depth discussion, see here.  How do you determine damages in the case of a misappropriated virtual contacts list?

While numerous blogs have puzzled over how to best  value these things, it does not seem an insurmountable task.  In PhoneDog they claimed each follower was worth $2.50.  Of course, they don’t explain where they got that number.  How much did they pay Noah Kravitz over the course of his contract?  Was a percentage of that contingent on the number of followers he obtained?  Believe it or not, there are companies which exist to manipulate our “social” experiences on the web.  On the link aggregation website,, each vote you purchase for a submission can cost you fifty-cents.   N.B.the bulk discount!

The valuation of this type of “property” is an interesting question, but one that does not truly pose any novel difficulties.  First – if you are worried about it, contract around it (this twitter account is ours; your LinkedIn contracts are ours, etc.)  Second, if you fail to do so and end up in litigation, look to the market for damages estimates.  It exists and people participate in it.  Certainly total page traffic, the number of unique visitors and many other things need to go into the calculation, but it can certainly be done.  Notably, this may be more difficult to do for LinkedIn contacts.  What else can you think of?


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February 12th, 2012 at 4:41 pm

Social Media and the Law

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The recently published Malcolm Gladwell article dismissing those who claim social media is both a technological and social revolution, “Small Change,” has been generating buzz all across the Internet. Gladwell’s main contention:

The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvelous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism.

While it may seem that Gladwell set up an unfair comparison to the Civil Rights Movement, it can’t be forgotten that many social media evangelists got that ball rolling. “Twitter Revolutions,” mass uprising coordinated through Twitter, are a fiction created by the Western media evangelists, as Gladwell takes the time to point out, while thoroughly eviscerating social media’s actual role in social activism in Moldova and Iran.

But what if we  take a more comprehensive look at what Twitter and other social media has done? It may not lead to the social and legal revolutions of the Civil Rights Movement, but might it be leading some other legal revolution or just law breaking under the guise of social revolution?

When civil disobedience was employed during the Civil Rights Movement, it was used to end segregationist and racist legal regimes. Activists had to actively place themselves in danger to do so. Is social media’s Woolworth’s going to be online music piracy? Anil Dash, a self-proclaimed social evangelist, cites this as one of the strongest examples of social media activism. But are current copyright regimes really comparable to Jim Crow Laws? Why do these same “activists” not commit acts of civil disobedience by taking physical copies of the same music, books and other media they are so quick to accumulate digitally?

It may come back to the strength of the ties which were a staple of the Civil Rights Movement but have failed to form online. Digital hackers and internet pirates are almost completely anonymous — ties so weak to anything they almost do not exist — and tend to use this anonymity as an excuse for law-breaking in the name of revolution.

Many of the positive benefits of social media aren’t actually inherent in social media. There are examples of Twitter leading to the arrest of those threatening violence or perverts on trains. Unfortunately Twitter gives a platform to the violent and introduces an unnecessary intermediate step toward catching the pervert. The same went for two girls who used Facebook to call for help rather than actually call for help. And the student who tweeted his way out of jail. Traditional phone calls, text messages, or other communication could have achieved the same results.

As long as anonymity is allowed to reign supreme in the digital world, it will remain easier for those with social harm in mind to meet and prosper online than in real life. The weak ties promulgate a sense that no one is really watching. As Gladwell points out, the opposite continues to be true about social activists of the more positive variety, but thankfully the Civil Rights Movement has had a much greater lasting effect than anything social media appears ready to offer up.

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September 30th, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Failing to Twitter: Assault and Criminal Nuisance?

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When teen pop star Justin Bieber‘s signing became a riot of teens on Friday around 2:30pm, police were called in to control the crowd. Unable to quickly contain the situation, they asked his label‘s VP, James A. Roppo, to send out a tweet to cancel the event and disperse the crowd.  When Mr. Roppo failed to do so, they took him into custody, reasoning that “he put lives in danger and the public at risk.”  At his arraignment on Saturday, Mr. Roppo pled not guilty to the charges of felony assault, endangering the welfare of a child, obstruction of governmental administration, reckless endangerment and criminal nuisance.

(Curiously enough, Justin’s Twitter page has a tweet at 4:30pm finally asking his fans to leave the event.)

[Via Gizmodo]

[Video clips]

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November 24th, 2009 at 12:50 pm