#UCRiverside Experts Discuss Twitter’s Impact

March 21 is 10th anniversary of founding of social media network

UCR logoRIVERSIDE, Calif. – #UCRiverside experts examine Twitter’s impact on social movements, sales, relationships, teaching. Global network’s 10th anniversary 3-21.

A decade ago the idea that digital messages of 140 characters would change societies around the world was unfathomable. Today, more than 300 million users – including astronauts in the International Space Station – tweet about everything from social relationships and restaurant reviews to major news events and classroom quizzes.

March 21 marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of the social media network, which made its public debut four months later, on July 15. These scholars at the University of California, Riverside are available to discuss Twitter’s impact on social relationships and personal identity, brand identity and retail sales, its use as a teaching tool, and a project to analyze tweets that fuel social movements such as Black Lives Matter.

Bergis Jules, university and political papers archivist
(951) 827-3254

Bergis Jules is working with two other institutions to develop an application called DocNow, which responds to the public’s use of social media for chronicling historically significant events. It is a cloud-ready, open-source application that will collect tweets and their associated metadata and Web content.

“Twitter has emerged as one of the most important tools used by activists to amplify their messages as a way to reach a wider audience,” Jules says. “The Black Lives Matter movement is a great example of this. It’s a movement that started with a small spark in the aftermath of George Zimmerman’s acquittal in 2013 for killing Trayvon Martin, and then ballooned in popularity after Michael Brown’s killing in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.

“That growth and the story of the emergence of the movement can be tracked through Twitter. While it’s not the sole reason the movement exists today, it’s clear that the movement would not have grown as rapidly as it did nor be as effective as it currently is, if it wasn’t for Twitter. The activists also agree with this. I think the real time nature of the platform and the succinct character of a tweet are part of the attractiveness of Twitter for activists who want to quickly share information, and also for the public who want to consume and engage with information in as unmediated a way as possible. No matter what the future holds for the platform or the company, they have occupied an important place in the modern history of social movements in the United States.”

Matthew W. King, assistant professor of religious studies
(951) 827-7971

King uses Twitter as a writing platform in some of his undergraduate courses. Students tweet responses to readings before each class, organized by hashtag. King says the teaching strategy is threefold:

  • Condensing a response to a complex reading into a tweet demands a higher level of clarity and precision than a longer format, such as a traditional essay.
  • Using Twitter brings student encounters with academic conversations onto a global stage. “For example, tweets by first-year students reflecting on Freud and Islam were recently re-tweeted by the British Library and some prominent scholars of Islamic history in Europe to tens of thousands of their followers. In addition, many of the current scholars whose work I assign are on Twitter, and so I give extra credit to students who tweet to the authors they have read with their questions and response. This can be very thrilling, but more importantly, it is empowering for undergrads to know they do have very legitimate things to say back to those driving our fields in the humanities and the social sciences.”
  • Most basically, King says, receiving tweets from students as they read assigned texts before he lectures allows him to identify areas of interest and/or problems that can then direct his lectures and, “before we meet in person, provide a great ‘face-to-face’ space where I can debate my students on their evolving understanding of course material.”

Juliette Levy, associate professor of history
(951) 827-6492

Levy created a game combining Twitter and Jeopardy to test her students’ knowledge of course material. “Tweepardy is Jeopardy played with Twitter,” she explains. “In a large classroom of 80+ students, I tweet the answer to a question. For example: It is widely celebrated on March 21st.  Teams of students will discuss what question this sentence is answering, and tweet the answer. The team that first tweets: ‘When is Twitter’s anniversary #tweepardy,’ wins.

“Tweepardy has the advantage that it does not require new technology – most students have a cellphone or laptop, and teams are created so they have at least one team member who can handle the tech. Twitter accounts are free. And using Twitter in class allows students to explore social media in a safe and controlled space. Tweepardy also generates collaborative engagement in the course material.”

Asish Satpathy, lecturer in business information systems
(951) 827-5279

Satpathy, a lecturer in information systems at UCR’s School of Business Administration, uses Twitter to explore how people’s feelings toward brands affect retail sales. He says:

“An important factor that is expected to correlate with sales is customers’ overall sentiments towards a given brand. Using Twitter, we can essentially ‘listen in’ to what customers are saying about brands and analyze how different people in different places perceive retail stores.”

Satpathy’s study on how location-specific Twitter feeds can provide insight about brand perception and retail sales at Walmart is here: http://support.sas.com/resources/papers/proceedings15/3342-2015.pdf

In his “Information Technology Management” class, Satpathy also teaches undergraduates how to use Twitter for market research. “Advanced Twitter Search is an application available from Twitter to search for tweets based on specific date ranges, brands, people and more. Students use this application to learn and understand unstructured big data, and the underlying engine to query specific information from the data. Once the data is retrieved, they learn how that can be used to do market research for businesses to understand their customers’ unmet needs,” he says.

Jan Stets, professor of sociology and co-director of Social Psychology Research Laboratory
(951) 827-3424

Jan Stets studies the area of self and identity, emotions, morality, and social exchange. She uses identity theory to understand individuals’ self-views, emotions, moral sensibilities, and exchange behaviors within and across situations.

“Compared to the past, the digital age of using platforms like Twitter has facilitated people being immediately connected to a larger swath of people. The impact of what users say thus emotionally touches a large number of people,” Stets says. “And yet, these others are different groups to which one is tied to who may react differently to what one says. Thus, managing the self becomes more difficult.

“Additionally, users of such platforms never have to confront their followers face-to-face. This may lead to a lack of self-monitoring, or alternatively, a very carefully planned presentation of who they are to others. Then there is the face that Twitter is ‘one-way’ communication, a monologue, if you will, in which people are not communicating with others in terms of a back and forth dialogue. So, they are simply providing their reflection rather than a real dialogue with others. In this way, we get into the minds of others, and rather instantaneously, in a way that hasn’t been the case before. These are just some of the issues that Twitter raises in this digital era.”

Media Contact

Tel: (951) 827-7847
E-mail: bettye.miller@ucr.edu
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Additional Contacts

Sarah Nightingale
Tel: (951) 827-4580
E-mail: sarah.nightingale@ucr.edu

Mojgan Sherkat
Tel: (951) 827-5893
E-mail: mojgan.sherkat@ucr.edu

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