F is for follower
More and more people are calling for equality on the Twitter social-networking site, writes Salonaz Sami
"Down with the capitalism and imperialism that controls Twitter," wrote Mohamed Hassan, one of many frustrated tweeps who have decided to break the silence and call for their legitimate right to more followers on the popular Web-based social-networking site.
Gama'et al-akal min 1000 followers, or the Fewer than 1,000 Followers Association, is one of Twitter's latest hash tags. "It's ironic that Mohamed ElBaradei tweets one word like constitution and gets 7,000 retweets, whereas we act like monkeys trying to get attention and we lose followers instead of gaining them," wrote Hassan.
As the name suggests, the Twitter hash tag calls for tweeps with fewer than 1,000 followers to stick together and follow each other instead of following celebrities. Ironically, some of Twitter's elite, whom this hash tag is revolting against, have shown their support for it in various ways. Youssef al-Hosseni, a media presenter, has donated three of her followers to the "bravest, strangest and most sincere tweeps," for example.
He has also expressed his support for the new association on his morning show on the ONTV satellite channel. "I call upon those with more than 5,000 followers on Twitter to show their support for those guys by following them," al-Hosseni said.
"A true revolutionary is someone who rises up to gain followers and then cools down to block villains," wrote Mohamed Yousri Salama, a political activist and media spokesperson for the Salafist Al Nour Party, on the hash tag.
Most of the tweets so far published on the page compare their status to that of the country as a whole and make use of slogans used during the 25 January Revolution, like "freedom where are you? 1,000 followers between you and me," and "bread, freedom and Twitter justice."
Twitter user Ali Hesham suggests applying socialist ideas by "taking followers from the rich and donating them to the poor." Members of the association have made the rules clear -- that a follower given equals a guaranteed follower back -- and it is this that has made the hash tag such a big hit -- the fact that it actually works.
However, plenty of tweeps have nevertheless expressed their dissatisfaction with the idea behind the hash tag, arguing that members of the association have got things wrong. "A large number of followers doesn't necessarily indicate that a person has an appealing character or sound opinions," said Amr Amin, a Twitter user in Alexandria. "Empty vessels make a louder sound than full ones."
Dalia Ibrahim agrees. "Twitter is not about collecting followers, but rather about being able to express yourself adequately and keep in touch with those who matter to you," she said. In fact, keeping in touch is one of the main purposes behind the world-famous Website, 140 characters at a time.
The site, officially launched in 2006, asks one question of its users: what are you doing now? It allows those who follow a Twitter user to get a picture of that person's real life in real time through frequent updates. Perhaps this is why celebrities, politicians and other public figures have the most significant number of followers on the site, some of them having over 300 million users.
"It makes you feel you are part of something bigger than yourself," Omar Radi, a student, told the Weekly. "So that you never have to feel alone again," the 16-year-old said. With over 16,000 followers, Radi will most likely never feel alone.
Twitter is easy to use, with tweeps simply opening an account and starting to tweet. Following others is also easy and free. However, people have different reasons for opening a Twitter account. While some people are interested in following their favourite celebrities, or in gaining the most number of followers, others are not. Companies sometimes use the service as a way of promoting their products while at the same time engaging with their customers. Twitter can thus be a win-win application for all.
"The most important part is to tweet regularly," explains Tamal Anwar in his e-book on boosting Twitter followers and getting quality traffic to blogs. "The more you appear on Twitter, the more people will read your tweets and click on your links. It will make you appear more on the public timeline and other people's timelines, which will help you get more followers."
This is exactly what many members of the Fewer than a 1,000 Followers Association do wholeheartedly.
Following the success of this hash tag, others have adopted the same approach, creating more specialised hash tags that advocate the same idea. Hash tags like "Fans of Mohamed ElBaradei follow each other," or "Maadi residents," or "Al-Ahli fans," and "Mohamed Mounir fans" are among the most popular. Like al-Husseni, public figures have showed their support for the association in different ways.
"I will ask you a few questions, and the person with the first and most accurate answers will get a following from me," announced TV presenter and producer Yousri Fouda, one of the most-followed public figures in Egypt with more than 555,000 followers on Twitter.
However, Yousri's questions were anything but easy, and those who got them right really deserved their following. It wasn't only members of the association who were interested in Yousri's questions. Author Belal Fadl was too. Over the past couple of months, Fadl has been engaged in a fierce competition with TV presenter Bassem Youssef over who will reach 500,000 followers first.
"Six months ago, Fadl had 100,000 followers more than me; however, now the difference has gone down to 10,000, so please help me beat him," Youssef tweeted a little while ago. Unfortunately for Youssef, Fadl won and broke the 500,000 followers barrier first, though Youssef did follow him some days later. "I thank everyone who followed me, "she said. "As for Fadl, the 4,000 followers difference will not last long, and then it is going to be Fouda's turn," Youssef tweeted.
Members of the association have also taken things a step further by creating a logo for the group and a Facebook page. Elections will also be held to find a new president. Among the names put forward are those of lawyer and human rights activist Ahmed Seif al-Islam.
"What those guys are doing is not only funny but also very smart," Seif al-Islam told the Weekly. "It is unfair that some tweeps have thousands of followers, while others don't. It is the same in real life, where some people are incredibly rich, while the masses are poor," he added.
Mohamed Ashry agrees. "Those with the highest numbers of followers represent one per cent of the Twitter community, while the remaining 99 per cent are below the Twitter poverty line," he said.
According to Seif al-Islam, the hash tag also reflects the Egyptian sense of humour. "You know when you are all stressed out and you find yourself turning on a cartoon or reaching out for a comic to cool down? It is the same thing with Twitter," he explained.
"It is an escape from the amount of tension we live in," he added. As a fierce human rights activist, Seif al-Islam decided to show his support for the Twitter minority. "I am going to be their legal advisor because unfortunately I won't be able to head the association because my wife has American citizenship," he said sarcastically.
Yet, fun aside, what is really important according to Seif al-Islam is the similarity between the Twitter revolution and the Egyptian Revolution. "For this reason, most of the comments posted on the hash tag are actually taken from people's real lives and modified accordingly," he explained.
"The association wants to overthrow the regime and those who monopolise Twitter like Bassem Youssef and Belal Fadl," is one such comment. Another comment says, "your sympathy is not enough: donate a follower. I am supporting a wife and four kids, and I can't afford to buy the little one a scooter!"
Whether the hash tag will continue trending in the coming weeks is unclear, as political events in Egypt tend to change overnight and Twitter has become the number one forum for discussion, even out-competing Facebook. Whether their number of followers will guarantee tweeps happiness in the virtual world of Twitter is debatable, but the fact is that in Egypt the tougher the life, the funnier the jokes.
This is true both in the real world and in the virtual world of Twitter.