Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

TweetProgress: Building Progressive Infrastructure on Twitter

TweetProgress is a Twitter activist project I launched with partners Jim Gilliam, Jon Pincus, and Gina Cooper. TweetProgress is a directory of progressives on Twitter meant to provide the basic infrastructure for social action on Twitter. TweetProgress aims to:

  1. To help progressives find each other and follow each other on Twitter.
  2. To encourage more progressives to use the Twitter.
  3. To provide resources, tools, and guides to help progressives improve their use of Twitter for activism.

And there is already evidence that TweetProgress is growing the progressive community on Twitter. In the first 48 hours, more than 2,000 progressives added themselves to TweetProgress including Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Vice President Al Gore, MSNBC and Air American host Rachel Maddow, and Ohio Secretary of State and Senate candidate Jennifer Brunner among others. And in the first week, many directory members saw significant follower increases. For example, since the launch of TweetProgress, I gained more than 100 followers and the ACLU organizational Twitter account gained several hundred new followers which speaks well for how important it is for progressive organizations to add themselves to TweetProgress.

While there aren’t a lot of tools built specifically for activism yet, there is no doubt there will be in the near future if the hundreds of applications already created to work with Twitter are any clue. One existing activism tool for Twitter is Act.ly, a petition tool that many people have already used successfully to target workers rights in Florida, Pizza Hut sponsorship of Ringling Brothers Circus, and sexism in tech conference scheduling.


It started with a vision, or rather, a visual forwarded by Jim Gilliam, creator of WhiteHouse2.org, Nationbuilder, and the Twitter petition site act.ly). It comes from a blog post on ReadWriteWeb about Twitter use during the Iran election: “Evolution of a Revolution: Visualizing Millions of Iran Tweets” by Kovas Boguta.

See the big blue blob on the right? That is the conservative twittersphere or as Boguta describes it: “tightly interwoven conservative twittersphere.” No where on that visualization do you see progressives and that should be troubling to progressive activists.

If progressives are going to maintain their dominance online, we have to be present everywhere, especially in powerful new social media spaces like Twitter. We’ve seen what early investment in the blogosphere got us, and what lack of investment got the right. We have to continue investing in and organizing on new technologies so that we remain ahead of the curve.

What does the graph indicate?

The nodes and connections indicate the use of hashtags. The big blue blob represents the hashtag #tcot (top conservatives on twitter) which is used an average of 2,000 times per day. Before the launch of TweetProgress, the corresponding progressive hashtag #p2 (progressives 2.0) was used an average of 400 times per day (estimates based on hashtags.org searches).

That a tag is used more often than another does not prove in any meaningful way that conservatives are more organized on Twitter than progressives, but those numbers do mean something. Twitter is being used to influence media, to create and establish messaging, to connect distributed groups, and to create communication infrastructure and progressives are failing to take advantage of the opportunities Twitter creates for political activism.

Our goal is to create a more dominant progressive infrastructure on Twitter for the left.

Why are hashtags important?

Hashtags are important because they allow other Twitter users – not only the people who directly follow you, but also elected officials, the media, activists and others who influence policy and conventional wisdom – to identify and categorize posts of specific interest.

Building a community around the #p2 hashtag provides an infrastructure for promoting progressive ideals and actions items.

Twitter is not the be all end all of online activism, but it is an online platform progressives need to make sure we own in the very near future. Drafting more progressives into an existing infrastructure, like the #p2 hashtag, will be the key to more successful actions and issue campaigns. We must increase our organizational efforts On Twitter to take advantage of the unique opportunities it offers. TweetProgress and the community that has sprung up around the #p2 hashtag is where progressives can begin to do that.

So even if you aren’t already on Twitter, we want you to join and add yourself to TweetProgress. And if you are already on Twitter, add yourself to TweetProgress and network with other progressives–grow your progressive network and help the progressive community grow in general.

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