Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Twitter is changing the face of civic activism in several ways: Live tweeting and live commentary from events, connecting people with common interests, and helping people organize who aren't part of the old boys network.

'Plan-It' is a proposal in the city of Calgary to redensify the city by densifying existing areas and limiting the business-as-usual suburban expansion. During first reading, presentations were being made by the public, both for and against. People were there making comments on twitter as it was happening (livetweeting). This allowed people to stay in the loop about what was going, or when they should come to present without being there the whole time.

Discussions and status updates about the hearings were all tagged #yyccc, meaning Calgary City Council (YYC from the Calgary International Airport code, cc=city council). This 'hashtag' is searchable on twitter.com which lets anyone interested in that topic follow the discussion, and find other people who are also interested.

These hashtags arise spontaneously within the community and are useful for tracking discussions. Searching for #yeg will bring up a live stream of tweets relative to Edmonton in some way.

Twitter provided a platform to organize the group wanting to close the Edmonton City Centre Airport as well. The discussion on twitter about #ecca was being followed not only by the community of people interested in what was going on, but also in real time during the discussions by Ward 5 Councillor Don Iveson. Whether or not you agree with the decision to close #ecca or not, the speed and ease of distribution of information is hard to fathom until you see it in action.

Twitter was asked by the US government to postpone some scheduled downtime during the protests over the election in Iran. With cellular phone service cut and foreign journalists booted from the country, twitter users such as @Change_for_Iran became the de-facto source for on the spot news coverage.

Concern that these twitter users were being targeted to reduce protests, users elsewhere set their location to Tehran, Iran and turned their avatars green in solidarity with the supporters of Mousavi, the candidate who was reported to have lost the election to Ahmadinejad.

Twitter will certainly continue to change the face of civic activism, at least until the next thing does.

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