Since its launch in 2006, Twitter has become one of the most important and influential social networking sites, with over 140 million users. It played a key role in last year’s Arab Spring uprisings and gives notable figures ranging from Chinese artist and dissident Ai Wei-wei (艾未未) to Britney Spears a platform.
But many people still view Twitter with derision, says Siok Siok Tan, the Singaporean director of Twittamentary, which premiered in Taiwan at the Urban Nomad Festival last month.
“It’s hard to convey what Twitter really is because it is so ephemeral. What people struggle with is that they look at the text of what people tweet about and they think it is very trivial, very dumb sometimes,” says Tan.
Tan first signed onto Twitter after moving to China in 2007. After making a documentary about the Beijing Olympics, she was struck by how eagerly her Twitter followers helped her promote it. Tan began to brainstorm how she could turn her Twitter experience into a documentary.
“I was challenged by the impossibility of not only making [a documentary about Twitter] visual, but also so that when people watch it, they get a little bit of what happens in terms of the connection between people,” says Tan, who met almost all of her crew and interview subjects on Twitter.
In the film, she talks to a diverse group of Twitter users. Tan followed AnnMarie Walsh (whose Twitter handle is padschicago) as Walsh prepared to speak to a conference about sharing her experiences with homelessness on Twitter. Another subject, Janis Krums (jkrums), entered the spotlight when he posted the first photo of US Airways Flight 1549 after its emergency landing on the Hudson River. Porn actress and legal prostitute Mika Tan discusses how Twitter has helped her gain notoriety and clients, but also hindered her from building a normal life.
Director Tan hopes the film will allow viewers to appreciate the unique ability of Twitter to form meaningful relationships, even if they don’t launch their own accounts.
“I always say that I can’t make a documentary about Facebook by crowdsourcing. Facebook is about a closed circle of friends. Twitter is open,” says Tan. “It’s okay to talk to strangers and they follow you all the time. The relationship can be bilateral or unilateral.”
Read on for more of Tan’s thoughts about Twitter. For more information about the film and how you can arrange an in-person or online screening, visit www.twittamentary.com.
Taipei Times: While working on the film, what was the most surprising use of Twitter that you encountered?
Siok Siok Tan: There was a porn star in the film, Mika Tan, and at one point she used Twitter as a GPS because she was going to a strip club and got lost. She shared her distress on Twitter and of course five or six men immediately turned into her GPS and gave her detailed directions to the strip club.
There were also a lot of stories that I found very interesting that I wasn’t able to include because they are not visual. For poker players at the professional level, it used to be very difficult to document their games. Now every player documents their own hand on Twitter after they have played it and they’ve turned Twitter into a giant wiki of poker games.
Police constables also use Twitter to solve crimes. We reveal a lot about ourselves on social media without knowing it and there are police officers that are using that to help their investigations.