2009 will most likely be remembered as the year that the Internet expanded beyond the tech set as more people flocked to the web to search and share information — largely due to the growth of social media and the rapid advancements in mobile handheld technology.
Whether in news, entertainment, sports or politics, just about everyone launched a Twitter account this year. At the time of this post, Ashton Kutcher topped the list with 4.2 million followers with Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, John Mayer, CNN, Twitter, Ryan Seacrest and Kim Kardashian rounding out the Top 10 Twitter users.
Every minute, 20 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube and in 2009 the site served an estimated 75 billion video streams to 375 million unique visitors. According to the New York Times, “the average YouTube user watched 83 clips in October, compared with 53 a year earlier.” Also, with over 3.8 billion search queries on YouTube in 2009, it became the 2nd largest search engine behind Google, beating out Bing and Yahoo!.
On these sites, and countless others, users commented, shared, posted and even reported on their own in real time. Many news stories started online before making their way into the “mainstream media” and some merely took on lives of their own as the Web augmented coverage and reach.
In discussing some of the most memorable over the past 12 months with friends and colleagues, I decided to compile them in an end of the year list. So, here we go. Below is my Top 20 Social Media News Stories of 2009 (in chronological order).
1. Sully Lands on the Hudson
1/15/09 – A couple weeks into the new year, it seemed that there was apparently another tragic accident involving airline travel. Yet this time, it was an epic and heroic tale about Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, a skilled former USAF fighter pilot who landed US Airways #1549 on the Hudson River in New York after birds flew into the plane’s engines causing them to stall. Sully managed to successfully guide the plane in a textbook water landing (assuming there is such a thing), avoided Manhattan, saved the lives of everyone on board, then assisted the crew in evacuating more than 150 people to safety. Many first learned of the story from Twitter. The first photo after the incident emerged via TwitPic from Janis Krums who witnessed it and tweeted while aboard the ferry that was on its way to retrieve the passengers and the crew. An amazing story indeed.
2. Walking in Memphis
1/15/09 – Ironically, on the same day that Sully landed in the Hudson, former Ketchum VP James Andrews caught quite a bit of online heat when he disparagingly tweeted about Memphis after meeting with clients from FedEx — which is headquartered there. In an apology he later posted after FedEx voiced their displeasure, Andrews explained that he posted the comment after an interaction with an “intolerant” person and claimed that his sentiment was not aimed at the entire city. Either way, a good lesson that what you say, even in 140 characters or less, could certainly cause quite a stir.
3. Christian Goes Bale-istic
2/2/09 – While filming “T4: Terminator Salvation” at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico, actor Christian Bale totally lost it after the director of photography accidentally walked onto the set, allegedly “ruining the shot.” Though the flare up actually occurred in July 2008, audio of the incident surfaced in February 2009 and spread quickly online. Warning: Strong language. Not appropriate for kids — or rational human beings who choose to respect each other regardless of one’s lot in life.
4. Susan Boyle’s Dream
4/11/09 – An unlikely star was born on “Britain’s Got Talent” when Susan Boyle, a Scottish woman, stepped to the microphone to perform. Given her plain appearance and shy demeanor, several snickered as she spoke with the judges about why she chose to appear on the British talent show. However, jeers turned to cheers just moments after she started. Boyle wowed the audience with her booming voice as she sang her version of “I Dreamed a Dream.” Several versions of her performance quickly made their way to YouTube and one post alone currently has more than 35 million views. According to Wikipedia, “Boyle’s first album, I Dreamed a Dream, was released on 23 November 2009, and has become Amazon’s best-selling album in pre-sales.” Billboard also reported that “The arrival of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ … marks the best opening week for a female artist’s debut album since SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.”
5. Dom-Oh Nos!
4/13/09 – Anyone who has ever worked in a restaurant knows that there are strict laws that govern food preparation and safety procedures in an effort to protect the health of the patrons. Most of us understand that despite the best of intentions, health codes aren’t always followed to the letter 100% of the time. However, Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer, two employees from a Domino’s franchise in Conover, NC took that to a new level when they videotaped themselves deliberately performing unsanitary acts with food items and cleaning supplies in the store’s kitchen, then uploaded the clips to YouTube. Though the two claimed it was a “prank” and that they never actually delivered the food, they were still fired and faced felony charges for their actions. Once the video gained attention through Twitter and YouTube, it began to also dominate the search engines and Domino’s Pizza was immediately confronted with a public relations crisis that threatened the reputation of their 50 year-old brand. Domino’s spokesman Tim McIntyre aptly summed it up when he commented, “We got blindsided by two idiots with a video camera and an awful idea.” Patrick Doyle, President of Domino’s USA issued a video response and the company set up a Twitter account @DPZinfo to field inquiries though it looks like they have since moved over to @dominos. In December 2009, Domino’s launched a new marketing campaign in celebration of their 50th year called “The Pizza Turnaround” where they claim they’ve reinvented their pizza recipe (and possibly their tarnished image) from the crust up.
6. Dude, Where Are Your Followers?
4/17/09 – Besides being married to actress Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher is probably best known for his role as Michael on “That 70’s Show,” his prank TV show “Punk’d” and movies such as “Dude, Where’s My Car?” and this past summer’s release “Spread.” Kutcher gained early popularity on Twitter and in April, took on the Cable News Network (CNN) in a race to be the first Twitter account to reach 1 million followers. Who would’ve thought that @aplusk would be able to top the cable giant (and everyone else in the Twitterverse) but alas, he did. And, as mentioned above, he still sits atop the Twitter throne as the most followed at 4.2 million. CNN is ranked #7 with 2.8 million.
7. Iranian Election
6/12/09 – Perhaps the most compelling and meaningful global use of social media in 2009 occurred when Iranians took to the streets in protest after the 2009 presidential election results in Iran. Mainstream media was slow to provide coverage and the government run media operation in Iran was obviously not going to profile any form of dissent for the world to witness. So, the protestors turned to the Internet to tell their stories. Dave Levy and I co-authored a piece that ran in PRWeek called “Twitter Revolt Against Mainstream Media” where we wrote, “The crowd felt a sense of entitlement for news they wanted covered, and it left the media world playing defense to users who had turned the trending topics sidebar on Twitter’s home page into their own headlines; a user-generated ‘above the fold’ that reflected the group’s dissatisfaction through leads like #CNNFail. Twitter became the instant ombudsman for the media establishment, holding media accountable for what they were – or were not – broadcasting.” The impact online was massive. Twitter delayed their scheduled site maintenance because of the important communications role it was playing. Twitter users changed their profile photo green to demonstrate their support and updated their “Location” to Tehran in an effort to confuse Iranian authorities searching for dissidents. Obviously, the future of the Iranian people still hangs in the balance, yet many Americans are better informed about their plight under a controversial dictator and stand in solidarity with them in their quest for peace and freedom.
8. Saying Goodbye to the King of Pop
6/25/09 – Clearly, the death of Michael Jackson would have been a worldwide story even without the Internet. However, TMZ was the first to break the news that the pop singer had died of cardiac arrest at the age of 50. The Web traffic surrounding his death was massive as millions flocked to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs to share, comment and learn more. Facebook slowed but held its own. Twitter traffic caused the site to temporarily fall — even the Fail Whale ceased to make an appearance — but the “Michael Jackson” related tweets would top Twitter trends for weeks to come.
9. United Breaks Guitars
7/6/09 – While traveling on a United Airlines flight in 2008 with his band “Sons of Maxwell”, musician Dave Carroll overheard fellow passengers commenting that United baggage handlers were throwing guitars around the tarmac. Attempts to alert the flight attendants were met with indifference. Upon landing, he learned that his $3,500 Taylor guitar had been broken during the trip. After nine months of back and forth communication and failed attempts to obtain a satisfactory resolution, United finally refused to take responsibility or provide any form of reimbursement. So, Carroll wrote a song called “United Breaks Guitars” and produced a video and, of course, posted it to YouTube. It was an instant hit and stirred up additional ire among airline travelers.
10. Erin Andrews Stalked
7/16/09 – ESPN reporter Erin Andrews went public after video of her naked in her hotel room surfaced on the Internet. The video was secretly shot without her knowledge from a video camera set-up to record her through a peephole. In December, Illinois businessman Michael David Barrett pleaded guilty to interstate stalking. He admitted that he followed Andrews and stayed in hotel rooms next door on three occasions. He shot two videos of her while she was nude and was accused of posting them online, as well as attempting to sell them to TMZ.
11. Dancing Down the Aisle
7/19/09 – After the popularity of the December 2007 “Baby Got Back” wedding reception choreography video, it was only a matter of time before others would follow suit. This past summer, Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz treated their wedding guests to a real show when the entire wedding party — seven bridesmaids, five groomsmen and four ushers — danced down the aisle to Chris Brown’s “Forever” during their ceremony in St. Paul, Minnesota. The “JK Wedding Entrance Dance” even served as inspiration for Jim and Pam’s long awaited wedding on NBC’s “The Office.” In December, another wedding video was posted to YouTube featuring Dana Hanna, a groom who paused during his the middle of his wedding ceremony to update his Facebook marital status and tweet out from the altar.
12. Healthcare Town Hall Protests & SEIU “Thugs”
8/2/09 – In the wake of the conservative Tea Party movement, President Obama and the Democrats continued to try and sell their proposed healthcare program this summer. Several Members of Congress hosted town hall meetings back in their districts alongside Obama Administration officials to answer specific questions and solicit feedback from constituents. Perhaps unexpectedly, many turned out and the discussions were quite heated — and posted on YouTube. U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius were booed in Philadelphia at one such meeting after their comments about the bill’s length and the need to move fast. In the Tampa Bay area, approximately 1,500 showed up for a “pep rally” co-hosted by the SEIU and attended by U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor. One of the attendees, Barry Osteen, was pushed and slapped by Obama supporter Karen Miracle after debating her husband, Garry. “We have the best health care system in the world and I’m completely happy with what we have,” Osteen said. The violence escalated further when Kenneth Gladney, a self-described black conservative, was physically beaten by SEIU members after U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan’s town hall meeting in St. Louis, Missouri. The video of Gladney’s attack generated almost instant online outrage that prompted some select mainstream outlets to cover the story.
13. Fired on Facebook
8/14/09 – In my opinion, one of the cardinal rules in social media is to avoid publishing anything online that you wouldn’t say in person. A British woman learned this the hard way after she posted comments about her “pervvy wanker” boss — perhaps forgetting that they were “friends” on Facebook. Of course, he saw the post and responded to her rant via the public Facebook thread. He hit back pretty hard, got a little personal and eventually fired her. And yes, he’s serious.
14. Undercover at ACORN
9/9/09 – Wikipedia describes the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) as a liberal collection of community-based organizations in the United States that advocate for low- and moderate-income families by working on neighborhood safety, voter registration, health care, affordable housing, and other social issues. In recent years, the organization has come under fire under allegations of voter registration fraud and embezzlement. In an attempt to expose ACORN’s possible unethical and illegal practices, filmmakers James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles teamed up in an undercover sting operation and blogged about it on Andrew Breitbart’s site BigGovernment. While secretly videotaping a meeting with ACORN staff members in Baltimore, Giles posed as a prostitute seeking counsel on how to manipulate the tax code to hide her profession. O’Keefe passed himself off as a pimp looking to funnel proceeds from a brothel full of underage, illegal immigrant sex workers into a potential political campaign. In both cases, two ACORN staff members were complicit in their efforts to assist O’Keefe and Giles in supporting their illegal activity and subverting the law. Though the story initially gained little attention in the mainstream media, the first two videos rapidly gained steam on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. As news of the scandal grew, the U.S. Census Bureau and the IRS both severed ties with ACORN and eventually both the U.S. House and Senate voted to cut 2009 taxpayer funding of the embattled organization.
15. Best Award Show Interruption of ALL TIME!
9/15/09 – No one quite knew what Kayne West was thinking when he jumped up on stage during the MTV Video Music Awards to interrupt Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech for Best Female Video. He grabbed the microphone out of her hand and exclaimed, “Yo, Taylor! I’m really happy for you. I’ma let you finish, but Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time.” Everyone was stunned, including Beyoncé. Swift’s confused reaction was short, but classy. Meme sites soon popped up such as this Kanyegate Tumblr feed and ImaLetYouFinish where users can upload their own Kanye-isms. There was also this Kanye-Obama-Wilson mash-up remix which was quite clever. Regardless of one’s opinions on the quality of the music videos, just about everyone was appalled at West’s behavior – including President Obama who off-handedly called the rapper a “jackass” after the incident. Since the remark was caught on tape during an off-the-record portion of a CNBC interview, ABC reporter Terry Moran prematurely tweeted but later deleted begging the question as to whether anything is really off-the-record these days.
16. Meghan McCain TwitPic
10/15/09 – Can’t the daughter of a former presidential candidate and current U.S. Senator lay around her home in a low-cut tanktop, read a little about Andy Warhol over takeout, snap a picture of it and upload it to TwitPic without being called horrible names? Evidently not if you’re last name is McCain.
17. College Sock-Her
11/5/09 – Elizabeth Lambert, a junior defender on the women’s soccer team at the University of New Mexico was captured on video being physically abusive on the playing field vs. BYU in the semifinals of the Mountain West Conference tournament. Lambert (#15) was caught tripping, elbowing and even pulling one player to the ground by her hair. Two BYU forwards/midfielders, freshman Carlee Payne (#7) and junior Kassidy Shumway (#21) seemed to be the primary targets of her attacks. Video of the unsportsmanlike behavior was posted to YouTube by the Associated Press and earned Lambert an indefinite suspension. According to Lambert’s player bio on UNM’s GoLobos athletic site, she is “is majoring in University Studies with a focus on Occupational Therapy.” Ironic, considering her opponents will probably require physical therapy! The best response, however, came from Payne: Scoreboard! BYU won the match 1-0.
18. Vetting Crashers
11/24/09 – The saga of Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the White House party crashers, seems to get more bizarre as time goes on and we may never know all the answers. Apparently, bluffing their way into the White House State Dinner without an official invitation is just the tip of the iceberg. A video of the Salahi wedding (with 1,836 guests) sets the stage quite nicely. Then there were stories of unpaid bills around town, followed by accusations of fraudulent charities via polo matches to save a family owned winery, lies about Michaele’s past (aka Missy Holt, if that is her real name) as a former Redskins cheerleader — all leading up to their quest to appear on the reality show “The Real Housewives of DC.” Sadly, it appears that the only thing real about these two is how much trouble they got themselves into after posting photos of their White House breach on Facebook which provided plenty of fodder in feeding the media frenzy surrounding the details of this still-developing story.
19. Tiger Woods
11/27/09 – Yet again, it was TMZ, the Los Angeles based celebrity gossip site that beat out all the other outlets by reporting that Tiger’s injuries were not caused by a car accident while behind the wheel of his SUV but rather “were inflicted by his wife, Elin Nordegren.” According to reports, she and Tiger were arguing after she had learned about his extramarital affair with Rachel Uchitel (as well as others, we’d learn about later) and an altercation ensued. In the absence of actual B-roll footage to visually support the story, a Taiwanese news station used animation to dramatically reenact the event during their broadcast. Though it’s in Chinese, the images seem quite realistic and probably not too far off from what actually happened that night.
20. DC Snowball Fight
12/19/09 – In late December, the Washington, DC area was hit by a major snowstorm that made its way across the east coast. Total snow accumulation varied between 12 and 22 inches in some areas when it was all said and done. Hashtags such as #snOMG, #thundersnow, #blizzard and #snopocalypse dominated social media sites across the region. Then, someone came up with the idea of organizing a good, old-fashioned neighborhood snowball fight at 14th & U Streets. Word traveled quickly online and about 150 DC residents gathered for the epic showdown. Though the battle was intense (in a lighthearted way), people did take timeouts for passing cars and to help bail vehicles out of multiple snowbound predicaments. Police officers soon arrived on the scene to monitor the activity. A red Hummer H2 pulled up and the driver was none too pleased when snowballs descended upon him and his vehicle as he stepped out. Turns out that he was an off-duty DC detective and one point, drew his sidearm which prompted chants of “You don’t bring a gun to a snowball fight!” and “Fenty killed Christmas!” directed at the Capital City’s current mayor. The situation was eventually resolved by the authorities and much of the event ultimatlely played out on YouTube before making national news the following morning.
I’m sure there are other stories, so feel free to comment and provide links below. Happy 2010!