Twitter & micro-blogging

Twitter is a service that allows users to send 'updates' (text-based posts called tweets) up to 140 characters long via SMS (text message), instant messaging, e-mail, the Twitter website or any application that can connect to these services. Twitter will allow you to send updates to one person, to a closed group of contacts or as public messages that can be seen by anyone. These updates are displayed on the user's profile page and also instantly delivered to other users who have signed up to receive them.The sender can restrict delivery to members of a circle of friends, or allow delivery to everybody, which is the standard default setting.

One of the advantages of Twitter is that it can be effective in urgent situations because it can be easily updated by mobile phone and broadcast to many people simultaneously. Twitter has been used for a range of advocacy purposes – for example, Egyptian human rights activists have used it to let people know whether they are safe or have been arrested and Iranians used it to draw attention to and publicise protest events after the 2009 election.

'#hash tags' provide a way for people using Twitter to search for updates that have a common topic. If you are at an event, you can tell people to use a specific #hash tag so that all of their updates will be aggregated.This may also happen more organically, as it did when people began using the tag #iranelection after the 2009 elections in Iran, or #hiroshima to mark the anniversary of the day an atomic bomb was dropped on Japan by the US, killing an estimated 200,000 people. 

Twitter's great disadvantage at the moment is that using it via your mobile phone will incur the cost of an international text message unless you are in the US, the UK, Canada or India. There is some concern about privacy and authentication methods on Twitter. You are advised to be cautious about putting sensitive information out over Twitter. (Read this useful report from

Twitter will also allow you to create a ‘badge’ for your website, which automatically displays your Twitter feed. These are available for Blogger and Typepad but are also available as customisable ‘widgets’ that Twitter claims will work on any webpage.

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex workers, which works with sex workers on health and human rights, has set up a Twitter feed and has been using it to publicise its campaigns; for example, it used Twitter to publicise its campaign against the new Suppression of Human Trafficking Law which equates all sex work with trafficking and has led to massive closures of brothels and widespread human rights abuses against sex workers in Cambodia.

Further reading and resources for Twitter

For more information about how Twitter has been used by news providers and journalists see: How to: master Twitter, if you're a journalist and How We Use Twitter for Journalism

For more information on how Twitter can be used to help communities, visit: HOW TO: Build Community on Twitter and Using Twitter to Help Communities.

Support for bloggers & online social networkers

There are groups working to support individuals and organisations that use blogs to further their causes. Most of the resources listed below are available in many languages.

Global Voices Advocacy is a project of Global Voices Online which seeks to build a global anti-censorship network of bloggers and online activists from the developing world, dedicated to protecting freedom of expression and free access to information online.

Their Blog for a Cause! explains how activists can use blogs in their campaigns against injustice around the world. They also produced the guide to Blogging Anonymously (Read more).

Rising Voices aims to extend the benefits and reach of citizen media by connecting media activists around the world and supporting their best ideas. An Introductory Guide to Global Citizen Media offers context and case studies which show how citizens world-wide are increasingly using blogs, podcasts, online video and digital photography to engage in an unmediated conversation which transcends borders, cultures and language differences.

Reporters Without Borders produce a Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents which gives tips and technical advice on how to remain anonymous and get around censorship. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, how to to publicise it and how to establish its credibility by observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.