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The Twitter Index

Tracking the soaring stocks and junk bonds of social media, helping you to invest carefully and speculate wisely.

April 23rd, 2013

Rising: ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛

At any given time, approximately 72% of the vitriol unleashed on Twitter is because of articles written in the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛. Despite the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ giving the consistent impression that it's a swivel-eyed embodiment of the very worst of Middle England, it's actually a fairly savvy beast, and it realised quite a while ago that the viral nature of social media allows it to double its traffic by not only pandering to narrow-minded lunatics but also antagonising everyone else. There's something for everyone! That's how the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ became the most popular news website in the world; not necessarily because its editorial line resonates with the populace, but more because people just like pointing at things and tweeting indignantly "I cannot BELIEVE they said that."

Anyway, after the London Marathon, ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ wrote a predictably odious piece for the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ criticising ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ for not looking appalling throughout the race, for not puking on the crowd or bleeding on The Mall or pissing behind a car on the Isle Of Dogs. As usual, instead of ignoring ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ for the spat-monger that she is and refusing to follow a click-bait link to the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ website, everyone did both those things; the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ pocketed the ad revenue, ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ probably used her pay cheque to employ additional security around her motorcade, and poor ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ posted a much-retweeted response to ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛, which we would embed below but to be honest it's best just to let the whole business gently subside and wait for a similar charade to play out again tomorrow, and the next day, and so on, for ever, because that's what's gonna happen. We simply can't help ourselves. We hear the siren of the ⬛⬛⬛⬛⬛ and we find ourselves lured off course, eventually crashing on the rocks of Twitter and thinking "Oh, balls, I probably shouldn't have done that." But do we ever learn? Nope.

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April 22nd, 2013

Rising: #KeepAJ

Swearing at inopportune moments is so easily done. I've lost count of the number of times I've accidentally said "arsewang" while taking my wedding vows, and I'm sure it's the same for you. Dropping twatclangers is a perfectly normal thing to do; it's like producing insulin using your pancreas, or pointing at horses. We can, therefore, all identify with TV anchor and reporter for KFYR-TV, @ClementeAJ, who made this memorable debut behind the desk on last night's Evening Report on North Dakota News:

The words "F*cking sh*t / Good evening I'm Van Tieu" are, to me, a glorious celebration of the unpredictability of life. I've been playing it on a loop since I woke up. I've not experienced this much joy on a Monday morning since the time I heard about the British Navy's victory at Trafalgar, and that was ages ago.

There are precisely three people in the world who don't think that this clip is the best thing to happen to local TV news since the invention of desks. Only three. These three people can, admittedly, get pretty angry; that's why I've been careful to use asterisks in the words "f*cking sh*t". NBC has wisely assumed that all three of those people would have been watching Evening Report on North Dakota News last night, and have thus issued an abject apology to those three people and suspended poor @ClementeAJ for offending those three people.

Twitter, however, is not standing for this. Twitter believes that the thrusting power of social media can reinstate him. #KeepAJ is the hashtag that will, supposedly, reverse NBCs policy of shutting the TV anchor's mouth after the words have bolted. Fans of the noble practice of muttering "f*cking sh*t" are now hashtagging furiously.

Of course, this campaign to get him reinstated doesn't acknowledge the fact that AJ and his co-anchor Van Tieu are such desperately wooden on-screen presences that you want to give them a good going over with a a cordless orbital sander before dusting them down, applying two coats of quick-drying varnish and carrying them off to a warehouse.

But hey, that's a whole different hashtag campaign, which I'll start tomorrow.

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April 19, 2013

Flatlining: Social Media Journalism

This perceptive observation was posted by Matt Roller in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, and it's holding true. Eight hours ago, following the FBI's release of pictures of the two bombing suspects, Twitter was a whirlwind of conjecture and theory; a Content Strategist at the New York Times fired up his copy of Photoshop to try and explain to us why a photograph of the second suspect couldn't possibly be a real photograph of the second suspect, and had to be a Photoshop creation:

Only to retract his claims a few minutes later when it turned out to be real:

Flabbergastingly unhelpful, Twitter – in partnership with Reddit, Facebook and others – creates this fearsomely confusing melting pot of misinformation. Someone is named as a suspect, then a friend of the suspect admits on social media that yes, it is the suspect –

– and then locks her Twitter account a couple of hours later when it turns out that they're not the suspect after all.

But when things are actually happening, as they are now, with a manhunt underway, with people in the thick of it, frightened people, tweeting what they're seeing, it reminds you what a powerful and mesmerising tool social media can be.

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APRIL 17, 2013

Rising: @Big_Ben_Clock

The unofficial Big Ben Clock Twitter account has been operating since November 2009, doing little more than delivering BONGS on the hour, every hour, and as a result it's amassed nearly half a million Twitter followers, which is approximately three times more than Biffy Clyro.

You could speculate for hours about why hourly BONGS might command such a substantial audience – and I was going to, but frankly we all have lives to lead, so I'll keep it brief: there's something deeply reassuring about @big_ben_clock. Knowing that the BONGS will always be there gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Seeing BONGS in a timeline characterised by randomness and unpredictability is deeply soothing, and provides us with a reminder that for god's sake, this is only Twitter.

But despite the monotonous regularity with which @big_ben_clock churns out its digital clangs, this is not a clock devoid of personality. If you keep your eyes peeled, you'll notice, very occasionally, that it'll alter its BONGS to commemorate events such as Christmas:

Or the imminent arrival of Lent:

Knowing that @big_ben_clock isn't just a dumb automaton made today's BONGS particularly significant. Because when the real Big Ben fell silent at 10am as a mark of respect to Margaret Thatcher during her funeral procession, @big_ben_clock just kept on chiming.

@big_ben_clock, there. Timekeeper. Friend. Left-wing firebrand.

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APRIL 16, 2013

Falling: Mistimed Promotional Tweets

Twitter moves quickly. Too quickly. By the time you've crafted and posted a lucid 140-character tweet about the South Wales measles outbreak, you'll find to your dismay that 50-odd people have already said pretty much the same thing and now everyone's talking about Jai Paul instead. If your attention wavers for a second, you risk looking out-of-touch, stupid, insensitive or just unpunctual.

When big news stories break, like yesterday's terrible bombings at the Boston Marathon, you can unwittingly cause huge distress on Twitter.

You might have wandered home from work, made yourself a lasagne, picked up your smartphone and, oblivious to the news, posted "I've made a cracking lasagne" – only to find that your tweet has appeared amid a string of posts calling for some respect for the dead.

Embarrassment, shame and tweet deletion will have been endemic yesterday. Here's an example from the NME – almost certainly scheduled in advance – which was swiftly removed:

In a Twittersphere driven by outrage, companies are at particular risk of angering people. I like to imagine that every marketing department head is issued with a red panic button which stops all social media activity immediately and which they slam hard whenever awful news hits the wires. Exuberantly drawing attention to your furniture sale while a tsunami slams into the coast of Mozambique is something that your business may have trouble recovering from. US trade publication AdWeek made this very point yesterday –

– but unfortunately they made it a bit too soon after the tragedy unfolded, thus flouting their own moral code, thus leading to outrage on Twitter. The article is no longer online.

The social etiquette of polite Victorian society was sufficiently intricate and involved to have weighty instruction manuals written about it. Twitter's etiquette manual, if it existed, would fill 32 Oxblood-red Moroccan leather volumes and make a wonderful Christmas gift.

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April 15, 2013

Rising: Golf

Many years ago some friends of mine stayed up late to watch The Abominable Dr Phibes on TV. They were horrified to discover that it had been cancelled because the US Masters had overrun, and in their drunken state they decided to write a letter to the BBC. “We want to watch The Abominable Dr Phibes,” they wrote, illegibly, “not old golf.” The BBC, with its typical left-wing / right-wing bias or whatever, didn’t bother replying.

Last night the US Masters overran. Even if golf wasn’t on your radar, or your radar for golf wasn’t even on your radar, the vicious pummelling of Twitter timelines with golf related tweets kind of forced you to sit up and take notice, or slump on your sofa and take notice, depending. When it became clear that there was going to be a playoff for the title, this was a pretty good opportunity for anyone ambivalent about golf to sample some golf. It didn’t require you to spend four days learning about bunkers, fairways and knitwear. You could just watch two blokes hitting balls about in a 15-minute sudden death. That’s a manageable prospect, although not everyone agreed.

Some people struggled with the rules of the playoff. Some expressed surprise that Angel Cabrera was 43 years old; they had him down as about 50 or something. Many were distressed at the slow pace of this game that consisted mainly of two blokes walking on grass in the rain, because it was gone midnight and alarms were inevitably set for 7.30.

Opinion was divided on who deserved to win, but there was unanimity over the numptys who shout as soon as the ball is hit:

Then, at the end, it got quite exciting:

And finally the Australian, Adam Scott, won, bringing golf-lovers and golf-doubters together in a unanimous vote to go to bed for a peaceful night’s sleep, which is more than the Abominable Dr Phibes ever managed.

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April 12, 2013

Rising: Marmite

The death of Margaret Thatcher passed almost completely unnoticed on Twitter, until we got to hear about it an hour later, at which point we couldn't stop banging on about it. And we're still banging on about it, endlessly, what seems like four months later. Good friends have fallen out. There have been countless social media flounces. Previously solid marriages have fractured irreparably, with spouses now communicating by means of furiously scribbled notes left on the kitchen table. The Guardian, picking up on this mood of friction and discord, have chosen to illustrate it with a advert featuring a Photoshopped jar of Marmite, which is now being yeastily retweeted:

"One woman, a nation divided", runs the strapline, playing upon the notion that Marmite is a foodstuff that you either love or hate. But this is a fallacy. I quite like Marmite. I wouldn't choose it as a final meal before being executed, but I don't mind it on toast now and then. If it stopped being manufactured tomorrow I'd raise an eyebrow and say "Oh, that's a shame." I neither wave flags for it nor crush it into the dirt with the heel of my shoe. And I'm not alone. Loads of people think that Marmite is "alright I suppose". The same way they feel about ratios, tin, or corners.

Thing is, it's the same with Thatcher. You didn't love her or hate her, necessarily. The reason everyone's tearing strips off each other is because there are people who aren't sure, and they're thinking "Well, actually, she wasn't entirely good or bad, I guess, on reflection," and then they say this on Twitter, and then they're criticised for being a right wing zealot. Citizens who couldn't give a monkeys either way are getting dragged into slanging matches – because that's what happens on Twitter. Fence-sitting becomes a royal pain in the arse.

Thatcher, then. You either loved her, or hated her, or agreed or disagreed with her political standpoint on a case-by-case basis depending on how you were feeling that particular day. A bit like Marmite.

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April 10, 2013

Falling: @edballsmp

Twitter can be tricky to navigate if you’re a social media novice, or if you’re half asleep, or if you’re trying to drive a lorry at the same time, or if you’re drunk, or all four. Confronted with a box that you think you’re supposed to type some text into, your thought processes can drift alarmingly. After all, there are lots of text boxes on the internet. It’s confusing. Some of them you type your address into. Some of them you type “megalolz” into and hit return. Some you type your password into. It’s amazing we get it right as often as we do. But sometimes we get it wrong.

Ed Balls tweeting “Ed Balls” on the 28th April 2011 was a masterpiece of confused tweeting. We don’t know for sure what he was trying to do; one assumes he was trying to vaingloriously search for his own name, but maybe he was trying to set up a LinkedIn account, or buy a nest of tables, or submit a recipe to Take A Break magazine. We just don’t know. But whatever the reason, the resulting tweet is right up there with Moira Stewart’s seminal tweet, “Fiona Bruce”, which also had the Twittersphere smacking the floor and weeping with joy. Moira Stewart eventually left Twitter and the tweet disappeared with her. But Ed Balls, crucially, has left “Ed Balls” on his account for nearly two years.

But we should be thankful that he hasn’t deleted it. It is a truly benevolent tweet that has given humanity great pleasure. It tends to surge and ebb in popularity over the weeks and months like it’s affected by the moon or something, but right now it’s near its zenith. It’s being retweeted so often it’s becoming a chant, an incantation. A near perfect tweet that captures so many emotions, its distilled comedy brilliance can barely be improved upon – but writer Andy Kelly, aka @ultrabrilliant, has managed it.

Ed Balls.

(Image: @casiotone)

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April 8, 2013

Rising: @crimershow

"I was do crimes." This chilling and grammatically dubious criminal confession is from @crimershow, a gripping detective story in tweet format (I'm avoiding calling it a twetective story) which sets aside linguistic convention in favour of hard-hitting dialogue with misplaced apostrophes.

CRIMER is a one-man crime wave, responsible for "mor than 27,000,00" crimes. He has a girlfriend, HOTBABE, who offers affection in exchange for expensive gifts. Other criminals, namely BADGUY, respect his carefree disregard for the law. His nemesis: the milk-drinking DETETCIVE, who's currently investigating the disappearance of five "helpycopters". But crimefighting is a tough business, and DETETCIVE seems to be spiralling into depression. This is actively damaging his relationship with DETETCIVEWIFE, so he's attending therapy in a "Nervose Pepl Grupe". Typing this with auto-spellcheck on is a nightmare. Anyway, if you're the kind of completist who can't move for stacks of DVD box sets, you'll find the @crimershow story-so-far here. Improbably, you can already buy "Im have terbil draems" t-shirts. The author, @astonishingsod, is also responsible for @freints_show, which is a bit like @crimershow except it's based on Friends. Bad spelling has never been so compelling.

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April 5, 2013

Rising: Prince

Everyone loves tweeting about the weather. It's the lowest common denominator of social media, bringing us closer together through a process of tedious agreement. If you tweet "It's raining!", someone will usually reply saying "Same here!", whereas if you tweet "My boiler flue is blocked" they probably won't. The risk, of course, is that your weather-tweets might come across as a bit dull, so it's important to find new ways of making meteorological observations. The British were given a golden opportunity yesterday when it started snowing. In April. The closing track of Prince's "Parade" album, "Sometimes It Snows In April", suddenly became a handy cipher for telling each other that it was snowing, which we knew already.

Dara was not alone in making this connection. Anyone who could see outside and had a cursory knowledge of Prince's back catalogue leapt into the fray. The song started trending in London. This, coupled with the viral spread of Prince's stoner rock version of Let's Go Crazy has marked a big week for Prince on Twitter, something I'm sure he gives a sh*t about. PS: @3rdeyegirl is as near an official Prince Twitter account as you'll get.

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April 4, 2013

Falling: Online petitions

Twitter has gone petition mad. You can't glance at a glossy retina display without someone screeching at you to sign something, which would then have the effect of making a counter tick over and not much else. It started with the Iain Duncan Smith furore, where comments about benefits he made on the Today programme prompted calls for him to try living on 53 quid a week. We may as well have called for him to dip his head in golden treacle and glitter and run around Parliament Square pretending to be a firework, because he wasn't going to do it. Politics doesn't work that way. And as much as I'd enjoy seeing IDS scavenging in a Tesco Metro bin, @internetsdairy has made an excellent point:

This was followed by calls to sign some other petition that demanded the dissolution of Parliament and the holding of a general election if it picked up 500,000 signatures. 500,000 is about 1% of the electorate. The BNP got more votes than that in the last general election, for chrissakes. You and I may consider the Tory front bench to be a wretched collection of c*ckweasels, but this is not a clickocracy. If the real world were shaped by the whims of angry people on the internet, the streets of Britain would be foaming with fury over the new Facebook layout. Let's just take a deep breath, and wait for the inevitable civil unrest that'll happen when it's a bit warmer outside in the evenings. That'll give us something to tweet about.

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April 3, 2013

Flatlining: @duluxuk

Sometimes it's hard for companies to formulate a Twitter strategy that resonates with the public.

This well-meaning advice floated by, unremarked upon by any of the 1698 people who follow the @duluxuk account...

You can imagine the marketing meeting where the tone, the approach and the content of @duluxuk were thrashed out. There was a big oval table with water and biscuits on it, and some people fiddling with iPads, and another person writing on a whiteboard "we're passionate about colour" and someone saying "Yes, that's good, we'll put that in the Twitter bio", despite everyone knowing that "passionate about" is just shorthand for "paid to be interested in". As it's failing to engage Twitter in discussions about swatches, the main task that befalls @duluxuk is to respond politely, through gritted teeth to stuff like this:

That can't be fun. If anyone has any idea how to pep up Dulux's social media activity, I suggest forming a consultancy business and charging them a shitload of money, quick.

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April 2, 2013

Falling: #BestSongToHaveSexTo

Recently trending worldwide, #BestSongToHaveSexTo has inevitably disappeared into a pit of indifference of its own making. Here's what happens. Someone has the idea of posting a song that they genuinely like rutting to – you know like "Bump N' Grind" by R Kelly or something. Almost immediately, the jokes start. People post songs that would be bad to have sex to because they're either too serious ("Do They Know It's Christmas"), too depressing ("Meat Is Murder") or just feel wrong for some reason ("Come On Eileen"). But the jokes are predictably weak, and as a result #bestsongtohavesexto became a list of songs. Just some songs. That should really have been hashtagged #songs. Who's got time for #songs? Not me. In any case, no observation about musical accompaniment to sex can outdo this one:

Game over.

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