Has Twitter Finally Come Of Age?

Twitter has finally released the statistics for the top 10 hashtags of 2011.

The results make for interesting reading, particularly as the names of Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga don’t feature at all. That, if nothing else, makes a refreshing change at least. So who or what came out at the top of the pile? Was it the usual celebrity-orientated nonsense that we’ve come to know and love, or hate as the case may be? Well, generally no, but a few celebrities did manage to sneak in unsurprisingly. The major talking points of the year revolved around political unrest and democratic change as well as natural disasters and the demise of Osama bin Laden. But, just in case you might think we’re all getting a little too grown up and serious about life, Charlie Sheen and Ricky Gervais also managed to sneak in there, so you celeb-spotters can breathe a sigh of relief.

So, what was trending during 2011?

Well, unsurprisingly it was the political unrest in Egypt and the subsequent Arab Spring. The overthrow of long-time president Hosni Mubarak triggered a series of uprisings right across the Middle East and Africa. It was probably the first time that the mass power of the social media had been used for social change, by spreading the word about state repression, police brutality and the fight for a democratic future. This trend has continued to gain momentum and we’ve since seen similar disturbances in Algeria and Libya which have both resulted in the overthrow of a repressive regime.

Many people dismissed the social media as inconsequential and a bit of a frippery, yet it’s arguable that the Arab Spring finally demonstrated that social networking had finally come of age. It was the instant way to spread news in real time to the world at large, and no matter how hard the authorities tried to silence the social medium, they were outmanoeuvred and made to look impotent. No wonder repressive regimes quake at the thought of Twitter and Facebook. It’s no longer possible to hide your dark secrets, as somebody out there will force you to air the dirty laundry in public sooner or later. The authorities may be winning the battle in Yemen and Syria at the moment, but the one certainty is that they might be able to repress their people, but they’ll never manage to silence the networks no matter how hard they try.

It wasn’t just political unrest and regime change that trended this year; other popular hashtags were the US force’s fatal raid on the home of the world’s most wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, and the Japanese earthquake and  the subsequent tsunami. These news stories came in at numbers two and three respectively in the news tweets.

In case anyone may think this is all getting just a bit too serious, fear not.

Twitter has also released details about the hottest topics in a range of subjects, including the most talked about actors, films and television shows. Yes celebrity will out one way or another. Top of the pile unsurprisingly is Charlie Sheen. Sheen made headlines following his sacking form top US comedy show, Two And A Half Men. Sheen proved he was king of the twitterati after a series of rambling public rants culminated with the comment to online celebrity gossip site Radar Online: “My fangs are dripping tiger blood.” At the same time, he joined Twitter and racked up one million followers in the first 24 hours, believed to be a record for the site. He used the site to comment on the dispute between him and the Two And A Half Men show’s producers, at one point tweeting: “I’m looking to hire a #winning INTERN with #TigerBlood.”

If you’re convinced this social networking malarkey is overrated and are looking for proof that the world really has gone mad, then Twitter might provide you with all the ammunition you’ll need. A teenager who was unknown at the start of the year topped the music list. Would-be pop star Rebecca Black was propelled into stardom when her debut single Friday was released on YouTube to widespread mockery. At the time of its release, the song ranked top in global trending topics on Twitter, surpassing even the devastating Japanese earthquake crisis. In the food category the McLobster took top place after it trended on rumours that fast food chain McDonald’s was to roll out the crustacean-based sandwich across the US. Previously it had only been available in Canada.

We Brits don’t like to be outdone though: we think we’re as good as anyone else, if not better at times.

Twitter statistics would tend to confirm this too. There was plenty of British talent in the top 10, including Ricky Gervais, off the back of his controversial Golden Globes appearance, Colin Firth, who won the best actor Oscar for his performance as King George VI in The King’s Speech and Pete Postelthwaite, the British character actor who died in 2011.

And what has Twitter had to say about the year’s trends? Well, simply that it proves that social networking is all-embracing and can be a force for good as well as a bit of harmless fun. In its official blog Twitter commented:

“Among other things, we saw history unfold in the Middle East, mourned the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, celebrated National Whipped Cream Day, and cheered for the Dallas Mavericks, Texas Rangers and Wayne Rooney.”

“More than anything, these trends demonstrate how Twitter connects people with common interests. Instead of watching the news, the Super Bowl and Pretty Little Liars at home alone, we watched them together on Twitter.”

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