Latinos Changing the World Through Twitter?

Latinos Changing the World Through Twitter?

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PHILADELPHIA -- On various occasions I’ve heard people give their humble opinion of the social networking site Twitter, and most of them haven’t been good. The comment is usually the same: “I don’t need to know what everyone is doing every minute of the day -- that’s stupid!”

But Twitter has gone far beyond being a social networking site used to update the status of its users.

A little over five years ago, Twitter became a place to simplify even the deepest thoughts of its users into 140 characters or less. Twitter accounts have spread like wildfire around the world, with more than 200 million users using the service to share news, ideas, comments and criticism.

For the first time in history, consumers have the opportunity to be their own content producers through social networking.

And, for the first time in history, online Latinos are perceived as equals in the U.S. mainstream media.

"I love to talk online about Latinos in the U.S. because I think we're marginalized from the mainstream media in the country," said tweeter Eric Cortes (@navaja1cortes), director of marketing and promotion for Telemundo in Philadelphia.

Cortes thinks that this interaction can be used to build a presence on social networking sites, and find users with similar interests to work toward a common goal.

He is a faithful follower of the hashtag #LATISM (Latinos in Social Media) on Twitter, the symbol used by many Latino tweeters to create a shared conversation.

The organization Latinos in Social Media emerged thanks to the growing online participation of Latino users.

Since its creation in 2009, LATISM’s registered members have increased, according to their database, and the organization currently has 134,000 subscribing users.

Participants include Latinos all over the world.

What are Latino Tweeters Looking For?

"We want to take all these ideas, opinions and comments that happen in our conversation, and carry it past the virtual world to benefit the Latino community," said LATISM vice president of communications Elianne Ramos in an interview with Al Día.

Despite the short time frame for the project, its growth is expected to continue.

The hashtag #LATISM emerged from a single tweet in early 2008.

According to Ramos, the founder of the organization, Ana Roca Castro, found Latinos scattered across the world of Twitter.

"Roca worked at the time with clients who were interested in reaching Latinos online, because at the time there was a perception that Latinos were not active on the Internet," said Ramos.

Roca sent a tweet that said: “Where are my Latinos?” and received an immediate response from approximately 300 users.

"Before Twitter, people didn’t have a space to express what they thought and couldn’t find a place for unity online. Something this large-scale and instantaneous is very powerful," said Ramos.

According to Ramos, the work they are doing through Twitter would be much more difficult through another medium, since Twitter allows them to reach people all over the world instantaneously.

Ramos confessed that she hardly leaves her computer.

So far, @ergeekgoddess, Ramos’ Twitter account, has a total of 12,714 followers and has sent 60,466 tweets. These numbers increase minute by minute.

With 15 years in the marketing business, her foray into Twitter has benefited her professionally as a research tool for her writing and as a way to get constructive criticism about her work.

Ramos doesn’t like to follow celebrities, saying that the “cult of personality” isn’t for her.

But she has experienced the major events and breaking news stories of the last few years through Twitter. She particularly remembers the death of Osama Bin Laden and how tracking the news kept her and her followers close to the story.

"I love the immediacy; I love talking and the process of the interaction," she said.

A Whole World Right Under Your Nose

If it was love at first sight for Ramos, for Elma Placeres Dieppa it took more than a year to come around to the social networking site.

Placeres created her account @mzelma in 2009 out of curiosity and to stay on top of new advances in social networking. But she did not find much value in her Twitter account at first.

"I think in the beginning I sent one tweet and I did not use it again for months," said Placeres.

Almost a year later, she found a copy of the book "Twitterville" by Shel Israel.

The book is a compilation of more than 100 stories on the use of the social networking site and its success in business and global communication. This changed her view of the site forever.

"I was very moved by the story of a journalist in Egypt who was arrested. He sent out a tweet to his contacts and they were able to get him released. It was then that I realized there was a whole world right under my nose that I had no idea about," said Placeres, who serves as director of LATISM in Chicago.

At the time she relied on her Facebook account and the work of several bloggers, but with Twitter she could be in instantaneous and direct contact with the world.

"I've heard that Facebook is for people you know and Twitter is for people you would like to know," explained Placeres.

And although she does not like to follow celebrities, her interaction on the social networking site has allowed to get in contact with Cuban musician and producer Willie Colon (@williecolon), which would have been almost impossible in the past.

Another funny thing about the Twitter phenomenon, she said, is that Ramón De Leon, a very popular user of the social networking site, lives nearby and the two are good friends online but have never met in person.

"I have talked and worked with him but never in person. It's really funny because I know he lives around the corner from my house."

The marketing consultant has 2,027 followers and follows 2,055 users. She likes to tweet on topics related to her business although she admits that 20 percent of her messages are personal.

"What I like to see in tweets is what is happening in the world, for example Rep. Luis Gutierrez's arrest, economic and educational issues for Latinos," she said.

Creating Community, From Art Shows to Handball Tournaments

Philadelphia resident Gilberto González says Twitter has helped fuel his work as an artist.

The graphic designer has always had a fondness for computers. Two years ago, when he first heard about Twitter on his Myspace account, he was interested in browsing through the new social networking site. He was particularly struck by the idea of sending a message in just 140 characters.

"I think my first tweet was something like: I do not know if this will work but here we go," said González, who also works at the Community College of Philadelphia.

González tweets from two different accounts.

From @gilbert_artist, he writes about anything having to do with his art. "When I'm showing my art in New York, people respond quickly via Twitter, asking where the event is. I just send the address and people show up," he said.

His second account, @PhillyHandball1, is responsible for promoting and advertising handball tournaments in Philadelphia.

"Once I sent out a tweet with a link to a YouTube video about an event and in less than a day I had 200 visits. I definitely think the way we transmit information is changing," said the graphic designer.

"I have 5,480 tweets, about 20 a day. During events I like to do live tweetting so I tweet a lot," said González.

Among the accounts he likes to follow are fantasy writer Greg Pak (@gregpak), Latino actor John Leguizamo (@JohnLeguizamo) and Latino radio personality Pretty Loud (@prettylou11).

"I follow them but only with the requirement that they follow me," said González, adding that instant delivery of information is a necessity.

The Force Behind the Revolution

Twitter co-founder Christopher Isaac "Biz" Stone has said that his social networking site is not the triumph of technology but the triumph of humanity.

"While many people send simple and narcissistic messages, they are nonetheless becoming better familirized with the system. Then when they see an accident, they are trained to tweet about it and suddenly it becomes useful information," said Stone in an interview with NPR.

Examples include the millions of messages sent in March during the tsunami that struck Japan, and, on a much smaller scale, the tweet sent by the user @LeighFazzina about her accident in a forest that led to her rescue.

According to author Clay Shirky, an expert on the Internet’s influence on society, we are seeing innovation expand through social media.

"The moment humanity is living in now is the largest in history in terms of expression," said Shirky, who says he hasn’t seen this kind of media revolution since the invention of television.

“Historically U.S. mainstream media didn’t allow Latinos into their institutions,” editor Sara Inés Calderon said in a previous interview with Al Día.

She said U.S. Latinos -- from college graduates to high school dropouts -- have a great hunger to see themselves reflected in the news.

Two years have passed since that first tweet -- “Where are my Latinos?” -- and according to Ramos, nothing can stop them now.

"In LATISM we channel positive information to create initiatives that benefit the Latino community. It's like a bridge between the virtual and the real world," she said.

She also stressed the importance of sharing information with political figures who have the power to change policy.

In this new space, communication is no longer passive.

“Sending out this information gives a lot of power to the community in our opinion. I always tell people they must participate and speak up," said Ramos, adding that social change happens through active participation.

LATISM currently has 20 offices across the country and since its creation, has been mobilized to organize conferences and events to promote its mission in the Latino community. The group has organized fundraisers in the United States and Latin America, and its message has extended beyond Twitter with other bilingual platforms such as blogs and online conferences.

The conversation taking place on Twitter not only shapes LATISM’s initiatives; it also helps to shape social change that could move the Latino community to join a revolution – and not just a virtual one.

This article was shortened from its original length. Read the full version of this article in Spanish at