To tweet or not to tweet?

twitterLast Monday, Carleton University’s School of Journalism participated in a class experiment in Twitter. As result, the school’s political reporting course topped Twitter’s Canadian trends for the day. But is it educational? Two students weigh in.

To Tweet…
By Adam Stanley

In a perfect world, a good news Monday in my fourth-year journalism class, JOUR4000, would have every student getting an A, paid internship offers, and permission to skip the 8:30 start time.

We weren’t lucky enough to get As or internships last Monday, but we did achieve something: Our class Twitter hashtag became the number one, most popular topic on Twitter in Canada.

A Twitter hashtag is a tag added to a tweet to connect tweets on the same subject and make it easier for people to search, find and follow a discussion on a particular topic. They can be funny (e.g. #epicfail) or serious (e.g. #iranelection). In our case, we identify our class with a simple #j4k.

Students developed the hashtag in September as a way to discuss the events of the class each day, but this past week the discussion was taken to another level.

During an in-class presentation, political reporting students included a live-tweeting segment, using #j4k in each post, so the rest of us could follow along.

The presenters and original tweeters included Dean Tester, Margaret Cappa and Chris Cooper. Soon many others in the class joined in. It created such a buzz amongst students that due to the rapid posting of tweets, #j4k became the most talked-about topic in the Canadian Twitterverse by the time the presentation was completed.

“People in the class were all doing it; it really got everyone to actively participate. And even if they weren’t tweeting, we had the stream up on the screen for everyone to follow along,” Tester said. “It showed how successful using Twitter could be to interact with a crowd while making a presentation.”

At the time, more Canadians were tweeting about #j4k than about #rolluptherim, including CBC politics reporter Kady O’Malley.

“No one predicted it would get to be this successful. We still don’t know what it takes to be a trending topic in Canada, but it was a lot of fun,” said Tester.

It’s interesting to see that the tweets mirrored those of any regular day of tweets from the House of Commons. There were comments about the issues that were presented, of course, but also comments about what the students making the presentation were wearing that day.

Shortly after class ended the news broke, on Twitter of course, that #j4k was not only just a trending topic in Canada, but it had in fact been the number one trending topic for a while, too.

Adam Stanley is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University. He was recently nominated “most likely to conduct an interview over Twitter”. He can be followed on Twitter @adam_stanley.

…Or Not toTweet?
By Sabina Lam

OK, I’ll admit it. When my JOUR4000 class managed to top Canada’s trending topics list on Twitter last Monday, I was both excited and proud.

But I soon reassessed where my pride was coming from.

What started as a clever exercise as part of a political reporting class presentation to demonstrate the types of communication MPs and journalists engage in during senate committee meetings, the tweets during our class quickly got out of hand and irrelevant.

In addition to the three presenters that regularly tweeted during the presentation itself, many of the students in the audience also took part in voicing/tweeting their thoughts on the presentation and the J-4000 class in general.

The vast majority of the tweets didn’t talk about political reporting and were instead fixated on the fashion decisions of the presenters in the group, which is something our professor Lois Sweet mentioned stuck out most. While this was entertaining, it ultimately proves my thoughts on the irrelevancy of the tweets that were produced in this exercise.

Typically, when a trending topic piques my interest, I will click to see what has been tweeted about it in order to find out why it made the list. In most cases, something “trends” because it is a breaking news item. But click on the #j4k hashtag while it was trending and the tweets read like a huge inside joke that wouldn’t make much sense to the outside viewer.

The tweeting frenzy in the lecture room that occurred during the 10-minute presentation was also indicative of just how little the students were paying attention to the class itself.

Admittedly, I was guilty of this as well. With all the excitement surrounding the live-tweeting action, my attention was fixated on refreshing my Twitter page in front of me rather than what the listening to the presenters.

As one of the tweeting audience members summed up in an after-class tweet, “It was so fun! But don’t ask me what the presentation was about . . . #j4k.”

Now that all is said and done, I have yet to encounter someone that was in attendance that can tell me what the presenters actually spoke about. The recurring theme often revolves around a certain blue, ruffled dress shirt one of the male speakers chose to wear that day.

Additionally, a lot of the people tweeting—both presenters and audience members—didn’t seem to realize the full repercussions of what they were publishing for the world to see. Some admitted their disdain for the course, while others made their absence clear.

This type of fodder is only appropriate in private conversation. While many of those who tweet do so under the false pretense their words are only being seen and read by their followers, the reality is, unless they’ve set their tweets to private, this information is being broadcast for the world to see.

To expect some form of privacy for your tweets is wishful thinking and far from the reality of the situation.

The lesson to be learned from this is simple: tweet smartly. While becoming the top trending topic on Twitter was fun, it lacked substance in the end.

Sabina Lam is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University, but will soon be carefully tweeting her way through the real world, 140 characters at a time. She can be followed on Twitter @SabinaL