Twitter, The World’s Backchannel


Photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works by Scott Beale

I do not voluntarily watch too much TV, but sometimes it is on in the house. For most of the year, I am teaching during Good Morning America, but I happen to be in the kitchen while it was on one day this summer. They were introducing a pop star who was to perform a few songs in Central Park to a decently large crowd and a much larger one watching at home. At the same time, the producers introduced a Twitter hashtag in the lower third of the screen and proceeded to display tweets from the online chat. This is certainly not the first time I have seen something like this on TV. It has been a growing trend for the last two years. Typically, I am annoyed by this. It always seemed like a desperate attempt to be trendy and hook a young audience. Something that is new for ABC is including Twitter handles in each reporters lower third graphic, under their name and title. Television reporters on several networks have even been quoting tweets to add context to their news stories. It seems that ABC is really trying to integrate Twitter into the entire news experience. So what? Do they have some sort of partnership with the social network to help promote each other’s businesses? I am trying to think more about how Twitter, used in this context, can be meaningful.

While watching this artist sing and dance across the stage on a blistering hot New York City summer morning, sweat poring off his skin, I started thinking about what was really going on in the bottom third of the screen. This practice of streaming tweets during the performance was tapping into the voice of the audience. Isn’t that what a backchannel is for? It gives a space for live discussion, commenting, questions and answers.

I experimented with using TodaysMeet while watching and analyzing films in my video production course. The students were intrigued by the idea but did not really use it. I think if it is integrated as a part of the course from the beginning it will see more use. The site (and others like it) is used to set up what is basically a live chat room for student discussion. It could be used in many ways. I decided it could be useful during long films.

Twitter can certainly be used as a backchannel for individual events, such as the pop concert or for my video class. But it seems that more and more, Twitter is becoming the backchannel for the world. News events, professional development, pop culture, and more are being discussed all day, in real time, 140 characters at a time.

What do you think about this idea of Twitter as a backchannel? Discuss in the comments below or on Twitter, or course.


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