Well, January 2011 is now behind us — and what a month it has been. Between the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona and complete Middle East meltdowns in Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, one can only hope that things will get better! I remember so many people anxious to turn the calendar after last year but thought I’d take one last look back before officially saying goodbye.
In January 2010, I compiled a list of the Top 2009 news stories that either began on the Internet or gained additional steam online due to the impact of social media. After receiving a lot of terrific feedback, I decided to do it again. However, this time I tracked the stories in real time as the year progressed as opposed to trying to remember the sequence of events at the end of the year.
Since I live and work in Washington, DC, I tried to keep a special eye out for stories related to politics and/or government. Now that most of the stats are in and stories have unfolded — one month into 2011 — let’s take a journey back. Without further ado, here are my Top 20 Social Media News Stories of 2010 (in chronological order).
1. NBC’s Late Night War: Conan vs. Leno
1/1/10 – At the beginning of the year, NBC found itself in the middle of a late night battle when executives decided to return Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show. His new show at the 10 PM time slot was tanking. However, there was one major problem, Conan O’Brien currently had the job. In case this is a bit confusing for you, this animated Chinese reenactment complete with superhero motif should clear everything up. Instead of accepting an offer from NBC for a show at a later time, which he had done for years, Conan courageously decided to walk — and the fans went with him. They took to Twitter and Facebook to voice their support and soon thereafter, Team Coco was born. After a couple months of seclusion while deciding his next steps, Conan resurfaced in March by joining Twitter (@ConanOBrien) and made headlines when he randomly chose one person to follow. Also in March, Conan announced his two-month “Legally Prohibited From Being Funny on Television” comedy tour via Twitter. Eventually, the cable network TBS offered Conan a deal and now fans can watch their favorite late night talk show host weeknights at 11 PM. His new website is, of course, TeamCoco.com.
2. Earthquake in Haiti
1/12/10 – After a devastating 7.0 earthquaike hit Haiti, no one could have possibly imagined the magnitude of destruction it would leave in its wake. According to the Haitian government, the death toll reached 230,000 with over 300,000 injured and approximately 1 million left homeless. Many buildings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, suffered significant damage including the Presidential Palace, National Assembly and an estimated 250,000 residences. Many nations from around the world rallied to provide support and recovery assistance. Specifically, the American Red Cross partnered with the U.S. State Department in the most successful mobile fundraising campaign to date. Those looking to help were encouraged to donate $10 by texting the word “HAITI” to 90999 via their mobile devices. The initial response was overwhelming. Dollars were pouring in at roughly $200,000 per hour and after just a few days the tally had reached a record $5.1 million. Of course, it will take more than just money for Haitans to heal the pain of having lost loved ones, fight disease, overcome poverty and complete the rebuilding process. Here we are a year later it is clear that there is still much to be done.
3. The People’s Seat
1/19/10 – In one of the most surprsing political stories of 2010, Republican candidate Scott Brown defeated the Democrat Martha Coakley in the U.S. Senate race to fill the Massachucetts seat left vacant due to the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy. To call this a long shot for Brown would’ve be an understatement. Since the seat had been held so long by the late Democratic senator, it was often referred to as “Kennedy’s Seat” yet Brown always reminded folks on the campaign trail that it wasn’t Kennedy’s, Coakley’s or even his — it was the “People’s Seat.” As the election neared, national attention intensified and money began to flow in from all over the country. Former President Bill Clinton and President Obama both made trips to Massachucetts in the final days. However, Coakley made a series of “missteps” including some challenging media interviews, hurling insults at former Boston Red Sox pitcher (and Brown supporter) Curt Schilling, and the shoving of a Weekly Standard reporter by a campaign aide. No question that social media also played an important role. The Brown campaign effectively utilized their website, E-mail, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Ning, Google AdWords, search strategies and mobile platforms to engage voters, raise funds, rally volunteers, augment messages and for GOTV efforts on Election Day. Shortly after the win, Brown’s online strategist Rob Willington (@willington) sat down with the Heritage Foundation to discuss some of the digital tactics used on the campaign.
2/5/10 – Although it seems like all the major snow storms hit us last year, let’s not forget that we had quite a bit of snowfall earlier this year… February 2010 to be exact. Since most of us were stranded inside (except for the occasional trip to the driveway with shovel in hand), the only way to assess how others were braving the snow was via television or the Internet — at least for those lucky enough to still have power. Several memes popped up including #SNOmageddon, #SNOpocalypse and #snOMG. FamousDC provided a great round-up of images from around the Washington, DC area. Perhaps no one summed it better, however, than AccuWeather meteorologist Jim Kosek, “Oh boy! 14 to 22 inches of SNOOOOW!!!”
5. Google Who?
3/16/10 – 2010 was a great year for Facebook. In March, Facebook passed Google as the number one U.S. site, a 185% increase in share of visits over the same period of time the year before. A few months later in July, Facebook officially reached the 500 million user mark. In October, a movie loosely based on the story of the founding of Facebook called “The Social Network” opened in theatres and Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was named TIME’s 2010 Person of the Year. Traffic to Facebook consistently remained high, beating Google all the way through the rest of 2010. In fact, a recent Hitwise study indicated that the word “Facebook” itself was also #1 among 1,000 top search terms in 2010. “This is the second year that the social networking Web site has been the top search term overall, accounting for 2.11% of all searches,” Hitwise reported. Computerworld reported that four variations appeared in the top 10 including facebook; facebook login; facebook.com, and www.facebook.com.
6. Presidential Reunion
3/3/10 – Funny or Die assembled an all-star cast of SNL alumni and comedy greats to create an advocacy video on behalf of the Main Street Brigade. The premise is that President Barack Obama (Fred Armisen) and Michelle (Maya Rudolph) get a surprise visit in the night at the White House from ex-Presidents George H.W. Bush (Dana Carvey), George W. Bush (Will Ferrell), Bill Clinton (Darrell Hammond), Gerald Ford (Chevy Chase), Ronald Reagan (Jim Carrey) and Jimmy Carter (Dan Akroyd) to get a few pointers about the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. This certainly wasn’t the only issue in 2010, but anytime Hollywood gathers all this talent into one room with Ron Howard in the director’s chair, it’ll definitely create some buzz.
7. BP Oil Spill
4/20/10 – British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill began with an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 11 men on the platform and injured 17 others. Three months later, an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf that devastated marine life as well as the region’s fishing and tourism industries. News travelled fast over social media and the Obama Administration began pushing back against criticism that they were slow to act by stating that they were engaged since “Day One.” Soon, the parody Twitter account @BPGlobalPR popped up and began offering witty, humorous and often inappropriate nuggets limited to 140 characters or less. However, given the reponse from several BP officials in the wake of the tragedy, it was difficult to tell much difference between those that were real vs. fake such as, “Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp” and “At night the gulf really doesn’t look that bad.” Yes, the shrimp comment was real. Adding to the company’s credibility gap, BP posted photos on their official Website that had clearly been altered and sites like Gawker, Gizmodo and Americablog began to take notice. The LIVE underwater “SpillCam” feature provided an opportunity for web users to watch the oil flow in real time until it was eventually capped.
8. Laughing All the Way to the Unemployment Line
4/22/10 – In the midst of heated political debates, such as the one ignited over the past couple years by the Tea Party movement, it’s probably best to take a breath and pause before acting. After all, cooler heads usually prevail. Lance Baxter could’ve used this advice before he called the conservative group FreedomWorks to leave a sarcastic, presumably prank voicemail to inquire about the percentage of members and/or staff that are “mentally retarded” or the plans to “spin it” when one of their “members actually does kill somebody.” Of course, no one at FreedomWorks was laughing. Baxter did leave his actual phone number in the voicemail, so a FreedomWorks staff member returned the call and the conversation was awkwardly brief. Evidently, Baxter also goes by the moniker of D.C. Douglas and had been employed by Geico as a voiceover actor, however that relationship ended when this story came to light. Megyn Kelly and Monica Crowley discussed the incident on FOX News. Later, Geraldo got into the act when he interviewed Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks for his take. Well, if there’s one thing we’ve learned about the interwebs, it’s that “Hell hath no fury like a scorned voiceover actor with a YouTube channel!”
9. Times Square Bomber
5/13/10 – Faisal Shahzad, a 31 year-old Pakistani immigrant packed an SUV full of explosives and parked it in the middle of Times Square with the intent of killing a large number of innocent bystanders. He lit the fuse and ran away, but the explosion never happened. Fortunately, a local vendor noticed the smoke coming from the vehicle and alerted the authories who later secured the area. News began to spread quickly online via Twitter and Facebook. Soon, a video was posted from a CNN iReport contributor of an NYPD officer evacuating a nearby McDonald’s. Thankfully, no one was hurt. In October, Shahzad was tried and sentenced to life in prison. At his trial, he stated, “If I’m given 1,000 lives I will sacrifice them all for the life of Allah.” Fortunately, at least one of them will be spent behind bars.
10. LIVE from Facebook, it’s Saturday Night!
5/8/10 – A fun campaign popped up on Facebook urging Saturday Night Live to book Betty White as host. Certainly most would agree that Betty is a talented actress and comedy legend in her own right and it was only fitting that her Facebook fans would launch such a movement to further cement her place in entertainment history. NBC executives and SNL producers loved the idea. A series of promos were released and then the day finally arrived. Of course, the Golden Girl didn’t disappoint — and her appearance resulted in the best ratings for SNL in 18 months. From her opening monlogue: “I really have to thank Facebook … I didn’t know what Facebook was, and now that I do know what it is, I have to say, it sounds like a huge waste of time. I would never say the people on it are losers, but that’s only because I’m polite. People say ‘But Betty, Facebook is a great way to connect with old friends.’ Well at my age, if I wanna connect with old friends, I need a Ouija Board. Needless to say, we didn’t have Facebook when I was growing up. We had phonebook, but you wouldn’t waste an afternoon with it.” Next up: Carol Burnett? Yes, please.
11. Ellen Takes A Chance
5/12/10 – The Internet has proven once again that there is a bevy of talent out there just waiting to be discovered. One such young phenom, Greyson Michael Chance, gained national attention when he posted a YouTube video of his Edmond’s Sixth Grade Festival performance of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.” While sitting at a piano, Greyson plays in front of a live student audience but the real fun happens as he begins to belt out notes. The looks on the faces of those in the crowd are simply priceless — particularly those along the top row. To date, the video of his Lady Gaga cover has over 36 million views which is incredible, especially considering that Lady Gaga’s official version has just under 50 million. Ellen DeGeneres invited Greyson to perform on her television talk show and his star has continued to rise ever since. You can view other performances, including his latest original tune “Waiting Outside the Lines” via his greyson97 YouTube channel and Geffen Records — but be sure to bring your umbrella!
12. Draw Muhammad Day
5/20/10 – Some cartoonists take a stand over the First Amendment while others claim that political commentary has gone too far. You decide.
13. Helen Thomas
6/7/10 – Longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas stirred up controversy after comments she made following a White House event celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month on May 27, 2010. In the video interview, Rabbi David Nesenhoff of RabbiLive.com asks Ms. Thomas if she has any comments on Israel and indicates that he has asked several others the same question to mark the occasion. She quickly replies, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine” and suggests they should “go home” to Poland, Germany “and America and everywhere else.” Ms. Thomas then shared that she was of “Arab background” but grew up in Detriot. Once the video hit YouTube, many were outraged by her distasteful and seemingly anit-Semitic remarks. She issued an apology about a week later but it did little to quiet the growing calls for her firing. She announced her retirement on June 7, 2010.
14. Etheridge Gets Physical
6/14/10 – A couple of young men, claiming to be students, took to the streets of Washington, DC with a video camera and happened upon Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC-2). However, the congressman was less than pleased to be questioned about whether he “fully supports the Obama agenda.” In fact, it turned outright ugly when he grabbed the questioner by his arm and then his neck while repeatedly asking, “Who are you?” Democrats pushed back on the video claiming that Etheridge was set-up by conservative activists. In either case, Rep. Etheridge recognized that his behavior was inappropriate and later issued an apology during a news conference in Raleigh, NC. “No matter how partisan and no matter how difficult things get sometimes, that’s no excuse for my response,” he said. “I know better.” However, the damage had been done. After a hotly contested race and vote recount, Etheridge eventually lost to his GOP challenger Renee Ellmers by approximately 1,500 votes.
15. World Cup: Believe
6/18/10 – After overcoming a two goal deficit, Americans were appalled when referees called back Maurice Edu’s goal that seemingly robbed the United States of a win over Slovenia. Evidently, Edu commited a foul though video evidence failed to support the call. In either case, a 2-2 tie is better than a loss. In the next game, Team USA took on Algeria. The match was scoreless all the way up to the 91st minute in the second half when, after a defelcted shot, Landon Donovan tapped in an easy follow-up goal (GOOOOOL!) to win the game 1-0. The crowd erupted with cheers in celebration, and not just in the stadium. A YouTube video appeared a couple days later featuring a compilation of the world’s reaction to Donovan’s winning goal. To date, over 3 million have viewed the video, including Landon Donovan himself. In fact, he was so moved by it, that he posted it on his Facebook page along with this touching message: “Not sure if you guys saw this but it brings tears to my eyes every time. Thank you all so much…we can’t do it without you guys. Believe” Well, because of you and the rest of Team USA… we do. Thanks, Landon!
16. Barefoot Bandit
7/16/10 – He has quite a rap sheet that includes 70 crimes in eight US states and Canada. First arrested at the age of 12, he has stolen planes, boats, a half million dollars and has committed an estimated 100 burglaries. His name is Colton Harris-Moore, but many online know him better as the “Barefoot Bandit.” He earned the nickname after the legend spread that he committed many of his crimes without wearing shoes. He was also known to leave chalk drawings behind of footprints which became his trademark. His actions gained notoriety online through blogs, news websites and social networks including a Facebook page that reached over 90,000 fans. In July, authorities finally caught up with him in the Bahamas.
17. You’re Fired!
7/20/10 – Sorry, Mr. Trump, but I need to borrow your catchphrase to describe a controversy that exploded online last summer when Andrew Breitbart posted an excerpt of a video featuring USDA official Shirley Sherrod at a convention banquet hosted by the NAACP. In it, she seemingly admitted that she withheld assistance to a white farmer — which prompted accusations of racism. News of the event quickly reached Washington and her firing (at the urging of those at the White House) was almost immediate. Agriculture Secretary Vilsack was charged with the unenviable task. According to Sherrod, “They asked me to resign. And, in fact, they harassed me as I was driving back to the state office from West Point, Georgia, yesterday. I had at least three calls telling me the White House wanted me to resign.” And that’s exactly what happened. USDA’s deputy undersecretary Cheryl Cook asked her to pull over to the side of the road and send her resignation immediately via BlackBerry. However, it didn’t end there. As it turns out, there was more to the story. The video was taken out of context and everyone started to back pedal after their rush to judgment, as internal e-mails later confirmed. Evidently, the incident in question took place over 24 years ago when she was employed by a non-profit. She has used the anecdote often in speeches stressing that her views had evolved over the years as she matured and intended to make the point that race didn’t matter. Groups formed to support Sherrod and began calling for the USDA to re-hire her. Even the “white farmer’s” wife came to her defense. Breitbart defended his initial posting of the video and described that his intent was to point out the NAACP’s false claims about racism among Tea Party members. In this fast-paced, competitive media and digital landscape, we should be reminded of the importance of taking time to investigate in order to make sound judgments based on the facts.
18. Run and tell that, Homeboy!
7/29/10 – Around 3 AM, a man in Huntsville, Alabama broke into an apartment and attempted to assault Kelly Dodson in her bedroom. Her brother, Antoine, heard the commotion and screams from the room next door and raced to Kelly’s aid. After a short tussle, the intruder escaped out the second story window. Early the next morning, Elizabeth Gentle from NBC affiliate WAFF-TV was on the scene to interview Kelly and her brother about the incident, and “emotions were running high.” During the interview, Antoine was clearly upset and rightfully so. Video of his spirited remarks quickly made its way across the Internet. Then, the Gregory Brothers from “Auto Tune the News” got ahold of it and created the “Bed Intruder Song.” It was an instant hit. Versions started popping up including punk, an awesome drum cover (courtesy of Meytal Cohen) and even the NC A&T marching band got into the act when they pulled together an impressive arrangement. Their studio session is fun, but their halftime performance on the field is pure genius! This past October, Antoine made a cameo appearance at the 2010 BET Hip-Hop Awards. As for the Dodson family, they were able to purchase a new house from the proceeds earned from song downloads on iTunes.
19. Don’t Touch My Junk!
11/15/10 – As we approached the heights of the holiday season, airports were preparing for the onslaught of passengers en route to visit family and friends. Unfortunately, we live in a world where security has become an integral part of our travel process as Americans and the TSA is charged with an important responsibility to keep us all safe. However, there are limits and some feel that searches are invasive which violate individual rights and personal privacy. John Tyner was one such passenger. After refusing to go through a full body scanner, he was being searched via a “pat down” by a TSA agent and felt compelled to turn on the video camera. While warning the agent not to get too close during the search, he said, “We can do that out here but if you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.” Of course, the incident drew national attention in no time — and jokes began to flow. In the video below, Mary Katharine Ham of The Daily Caller opines that we have we become the United States of “Don’t Touch My Junk!” FamousDC offered a link to these new TSA bumper stickers. Of course, our nation’s security is no laughing matter and I am convinced that there are people in the world who still aim to do us harm. Sadly, there is no doubt in my mind that the threat is real and we should take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves which is why most of us are glady willing to remove our shoes and belts and empty our pockets of change and put our laptops in a bin and zip up our toiletries in a little plastic bag and place our bags… well, you get the idea. Sometimes, however, things get uncomfortable and I think we can all learn to have a little more patience. In related news, perhaps there’s a future at the TSA for this gentleman who was involved in one of the most bizarre interactions with a reporter that I have ever seen!
20. Treason or Heroism?
11/28/10 – According to Wikipedia, Wikileaks is described as “an international non-profit organisation that publishes submissions of private, secret, and classified media from anonymous news sources and news leaks.” Julian Assange, an Australian, is often referred to as the director of the site. Wikileaks gained notable attention, first in July and again in October 2010, when it illegally obtained and published hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. documents regarding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In November, it released scores of U.S. diplomatic cables written by administration officials at the State Department. One suspect has been named thus far. Spc. Bradley Manning, a 22-year-old U.S. Army intelligence analyst has been accused of downloading and copying the documents while serving on a U.S. military base in Iraq. Some herald the Wikileaks publication and argue for “more transparency, less secrecy” in government. Conversely, others strongly condemn Wikileaks claiming that their actions have severely damaged U.S. national security and the trust of our allies.
There you have it… the Top 20. Also, here’s Twitter’s 2010 Year in Review, YouTube’s Rewind for 2010, a list of Yahoo’s 10 Obsessions of 2010 and a nifty infographic showcasing a year’s worth of Foursquare check-ins in 2010.
I’m sure there are other stories I’ve missed (Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court appointment, Chilean Miners, 7-11’s #SlurpeeSummit, Velma Hart’s exhausted return to “hot dogs & beans” for dinner, Old Spice Guy, Rent is Too Damn High!, November elections, Juan Williams fired from NPR, “Hope This Gets to You” song, etc.) so please comment and/or provide links to your favorites below.