Bil Browning

Twitter, gay rights and controlling the message

Filed By Bil Browning | April 22, 2009 7:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: Angie Zapata, gay rights, LGBT community, Twitter

While Twitter has taken the world by storm and we've talked about using social media for LGBT organizing, I'd like to expand the topic just a bit. TweetDeck1.jpgI'd like to delve into how our community is getting its news and information - and how can we harness that to get our message into the broader mainstream consciousness?

To the right is a screenshot of my Twitter client (TweetDeck). I have a regular search for the word "LGBT" so I can catch items I may have missed, find new people to follow, and generally see what's buzzing at any given moment. When I grabbed this, these were the last few tweets that included "LGBT."

  • 2 tweets about Miss California
  • 2 tweets about LGBT health care
  • 1 tweet about gay marriage
  • 1 tweet about Angie Zapata

Looks similar to the front page of most major LGBT blogs, right? Let's examine the Angie Zapata tweet a little closer; it's actually a "retweet" - someone forwarding on a posting. In this case, I posted a link to Mercedes' "Disposable" post originally, Join The Impact retweeted it, another user retweeted that and then Projector Kelli Busey retweeted that user. What I typed was passed on to over 7100 people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in less than a half an hour. Details and a breakdown after the jump.

I originally Twittered about Mercedes' post at 10am. I took the screenshot at right at 10:30am. Notice how many times that one tweet of mine got retweeted?

TweetDeck3.jpgI have over a thousand followers on Twitter. The Bilerico Project has its own Twitter account that has around several hundred followers. The TBP account automatically tweets when we have a new post on the site. Between the two accounts, that's 1899 people already.

Here's the people who have retweeted my original posting that I could spot right away and the number of followers they have:

Bilerico Tweets: 1899

Total Retweets: 6728

Grand Total: 8627

By the time you read this, that number will be over 10,000 easily. Think about that for a second. My one solitary tweet linking Twitter users to Mercedes Allen's post on the Angie Zapata murder trial will have been forwarded on over ten thousand times.

It's All About the Message

When we're pushing the LGBT agenda - whether to our own community or outsiders and allies, we have to stop and consider how they're getting it.

I just did an interview with a reporter from EDGE publications that focused on the print vs. digital news habits within the gay community. (I'll link it when it's printed; they also interviewed contributor Paige Schilt too.) One of the main areas that I stressed in my answers to his questions was that it's all about the message.

Print publications - whether LGBT or mainstream audience - have gotten in the mindset that they control the message. They're reluctant to give up that control to citizen journalists or the average reader. Instead, they've clung to the "But print has been around longer and should always be #1" philosophy that took down scroll makers once the printing press came along.

Most of our LGBT organizations are no different. Remember Prop 8 and how the message was carefully controlled by outside campaign managers? How far did that get us? What happened when grassroots LGBT activists became involved and no one was worried about controlling the message so rigidly?

Shit started happening.

By the thousands, LGBT people took to the streets. They protested not just in California, but in Indiana, Iowa and almost every other state. The message developed a life of its own. "Control" was lost. And it was a good thing.

When you look at the numbers posted above, stop and realize that this is a minor ping on Twitter. A recent statistic I read (although I can't find the link now doggone it!) said that almost 85% of Twitter users will retweet something a friend sent originally. 85%. Can you imagine what national LGBT groups would do if 85% of their membership took action on something? They'd wet themselves with sheer happiness.

It's time we take the message where it belongs. Out of the hands of the few and into the minds of the many. We can start with tools like Twitter.

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Thanks Bill, I just put tweetdeck into my computer. I asked for a search for LGBT but it doesn't do anything. I'll figure it out.
I agree about the importance of connectedness.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | April 23, 2009 8:42 AM

Another great way of finding new people and groups to follow on Twitter is to participate in #samesexsunday. #samesexsunday was launched by me here on Bilerico a few weeks ago and it has blown up. #samesexsunday even got a shout out during a presentation at the Politics Online Conference this week.

Social media including Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc have become a key way that people find and share information.

So explain more about #Samsexsunday for those of us who have not gotten twitter all figured out yet.

Hashtags are words that start with the number sign

#idol (American Idol)
#followfriday (Follow Friday)
#topprog (Top Progressives)
#zapata (Angie Zapata)

There are hundreds of hashtags floating around and you can search them out on Twitter. (They usually have a listing of the top searches and you can find some there or you can look at a larger list too.)

On Fridays tons of people use the #followfriday hashtag to recommend people they follow to their own followers. People read the recommendation and then decide whether or not they want to follow that person too. Personally, @bilericoproject and my own account usually picks up about 20-30 new followers each on Fridays.

But on Sundays the queer community comes out in force. We use the hashtag #samesexsunday to recommend other LGBT people to follow. This is the one that gets TBP and me a lot of followers quickly. Plus, as in my pics above, I have a search set for #samesexsunday so I can see all of the recommendations made that day instead of just the people I follow. You find some spectacular people that way and I've made a lot of new friends, gotten blog tips and been able to help push stories (like Angie Zapata) to those who might not have had exposure to the message before.

#samesexsunday is now one of the top 10 search terms on Twitter on Sundays. It has been since Michael had the idea and we started it about a month ago. It's truly been a homerun.

That help?

But how do you use the hashtags?

You just type it into your tweet.

For example, someone twittered about this post and the one I linked in the first paragraph. Here's what they wrote:

Two great articles from @bilerico about the #LGBT movement and social media: and

Notice how the LGBT has the # in front of it? It just became a hashtag.

Here's an example of someone retweeting Michael Crawford who used several hashtags to make sure the tweet was noticed:

RT @dmcrawford: HRC launches #fighthatenow for updates on federal hate crimes legislation. #samesexsunday #gay #p2 #topprog #queer #lesbian


Yes thanks, I'm still trying to sort it out though. I'm not sure that I understand what purpose the hashtag serves after you make it. Does it make an automatic search or something like that?

It makes it easier to search. Lots of people could be saying "football" but not all tweets would be about the sport. By making it a hashtag, you can specify that it's actually about the sport and not, say, the nuclear football or something. It helps to narrow your search.

Yes, there's a big community of LGBT tweeting and RTing. I run a Twitter account that monitors the media for reporting about California marriage equality -- it's at and it's great to see all the activity.

I subscribe to feeds of phrases like "gay marriage" and "prop 8" and probably skim through several hundred tweets day. The 85% figure is consistent with what I see -- most of it is RTing, which does a lot for viralness.

And I do agree that there's a balancing act between control and chaos -- that is, a message that's tightly crafted versus a free-for-all of chatter. There's benefits and pitfalls for each; but I'm inclined to think that the free-for-all serves us better. With every conversation, we get a little closer to winning; so in general my vote is for quantity over quality.

i don't think i can get with twitter at all. that being said, though, i certainly understand where you're coming from bil, and i think it's a wonderful way to network and get the word out about all glbt matters. boy if we had this stuff available all those years ago, all the fighting wouldn't be taking place so much these days.

these damned "captcha" characters are so hard to see sometimes!

Thanks for tip on #samesexsunday. ... There is also we follow where you put in the tags you use the most and people can then find you that way.

I appreciate that the internet and social media like blogs, Facebook and Twitter begin to equalize things...

The big orgs still prefer to limit their partners to other that seem more "familiar" to them. You can take what you want from the use of familiar.

We get to help the orgs by taking things viral and spreading the word but we also can make sure they are being responsive to the community and what we need in this fight for equality...

Robert Olivarez
Latinos for Marriage Equality!