Twitter is for Transmitting Outrage

Yesterday, on Easter Sunday, news began spreading through Twitter, LiveJournal, and other blogs that Amazon had de-ranked a lot of books that they had deemed “adult”, in addition removing them from general search results. The majority of those books had little adult content, and the de-listing appeared to be targeting books with GLBT themes.

The response on Twitter especially was vocal and wide-spread. The #amazonfail hashtag has been one of the top trending topics since this time yesterday. Amazon has claimed that the whole thing was a “glitch”, but the discussion continues.

About a week ago, graphic designer Jon Engle warned people of his experience with They ripped off several of his logos, then turned around and sent him an $18,000 bill for him using his own logos. A #savejon campaign began on Twitter and elsewhere. His story hit Digg. People began raising money to help Jon defend his work.

Then The Logo Factory did some investigating and discovered that Jon had most likely been the one lifting logos from Metafilter posters found out that one of the illustrators had copyrighted his logos in 2001, long before Jon uploaded his own logos. Further detective work at the Internet Archive confirmed those earlier dates. Even so, the #savejon campaign continued on Twitter for days.

Twitter played a large role in getting the word out in both cases. Moreso than any other social networking site, Twitter is ideally suited for spreading near-contextless outrage. Many Twitter clients include retweet support, where users can re-broadcast a friend’s post with the click of a button. It’s much easier than making your own blog post about the subject, and like the classic model of infection, the retweeting spreads from group to group. Tweets’ 140-character limit keeps you from adding much context to your re-posting, keeping information content low.

While large sites like Digg, Reddit, and others can drive a lot of traffic in instances like this, theirs is mainly a first-order effect — most of the traffic is from them directly. Twitter works on second- and third-order effects, with friends of friends of friends spreading the word.

I’ve seen a lot of argument about what value Twitter provides. Its 140-character limit means you can’t put much information in your tweets. But it turns out Twitter is well suited for transmitting outrage.