As violence once again flares up in Cairo, Andy Carvin’s curation of information cascades gushing from the Arab Spring has been a useful filtering tool for those in the west yearning for up-to-the-minute, reliable information. Recently, however, his digital influence and commitment to sorting information have also filled a coordination need on the ground.
As Carvin’s Twitter feed demonstrates, becoming an influencer on Twitter clearly makes it possible to broadcast information to large numbers, which, when coupled with smart tagging and grouping of needs and resources can also directly affect events on the ground. This week, despite all of the misinformation surrounding recent clashes in Cairo, Carvin’s attention to the @TahrirSupplies feed has made it possible for him steer information about needs and resources using his network of trusted Tweeps.
As Twitter use develops strategically into networks that manage information flows, the focused curation of information cascade becomes an informal, and highly effective, system of crisis response. As is the case in Egypt, the months and months that @acarvin has spent developing trusted networks has paid off on the ground.
In this case, Twitter makes it possible for an individual 6000 miles away to contribute to the coordination of crisis response. And while this example shows the potential of social media influence, it also makes clear that influence without intent does not result in impact. The larger an audience a Tweep has – regardless of how the following was won – the more likely they are to continue to expand their audience at faster and faster rates. Zeynep Tuyfecki discusses this characteristic — referred to as preferential attachment — in the context of an analysis of Wael Ghonim’s Twitter feed.
And while preferential attachment is what provides Twitter users like Carvin with the capacity to use networks for large-scale coordination, it also means that a critical mass of influence can only be wielded by a privileged few. And that privileged few might not, as Carvin was this week, be eager to take the time or effort necessary to support on-the-ground change.