Thursday the 10th November 2011 was not going to be an important day. I was sat in my pyjamas when the Facebook wallpost asked me to put aside my planned day of episodes of ‘The West Wing’ and instead join a small group of Methodist young people in a social media experiment.
The idea was simple and brilliant (ht James Thomas). To write a Twitter based Remembrance Service to be posted from 1015 on Armistice Day, and to repeat the service on Remembrance Sunday. The tweets were posted under @Poppy_Tweet. The service itself was adapted from that used at many other Remembrance services. Hymns (and contemporary songs from Athlete and Nickelback) were included through the use of YouTube links. Readings, prayers, sermon and a reflection on peace were all specially commissioned. Even the President of the Methodist Conference wrote a blessing.
In under 24 hours (for the idea was spawned that very Thursday and broadcast only a day later!), @Poppy_Tweet had over 1600 followers, hundreds of people posting names of people they wanted to remember, and Press interest from around the world. Indeed you may have seen/heard about Twitter Remembrance on BBC , Guardian, and on BBC Radio 4, 5, World Service, Wales and on regional radio shows over the weekend. Even the Huffington Post live-blogged the service!
Today is now [Tuesday?!] and this post is my initial (and personal) attempt at offering something of a reflection on what happened over the last four days.
1. The power of social media
This service was put together using a closed group on Facebook, and live-tweeted on both Friday and Sunday (due to a failed attempt to use Tweetdeck, as it did not push posts out in the right order on the test run at 2215 on Thursday night). At no point did the 7 contributors meet together in a room other than Facebook Chat, and the occasional phone conversation. This was an organic process that involved people in England, Wales – and Germany! It is worth noting that the Facebook group was bigger than the 7 active participants, which leaves an interesting conversation to be had about participation in social media – but that may be for another time.
Furthermore, not only was this a tweeted service, using a created Twiturgy. Not only did it include a ‘Tweach.’ Links were also provided to the BBC live broadcasts at Trafalgar Square and the Cenotaph. But we also linked through to (*deep breath*) the Songs of Praise YouTube channel, so that people could participate in Twymns – complete with subtitles and that additional ‘church-y vibe.’
The Tweet Remembrance Service, therefore, included a variety of social media tools in order to aid construction, delivery and participation. In terms of planning, also included a great deal of debate about copyright, youtube advertising, and the inaccessiblity of some YouTube content in Europe and around the world.
2. Right people, right time, right expertise
There is something deeply satisfying about being part of something that came together in the space of an exhausting 24hr period. This was only achieved, however, because people had the time and expertise to be able to do it. In social media serendipity, we had to hand ‘our minister’ – yours truly who seemed to take overall theological charge of the piece, approving hymn choices, pushing the boundaries (yes, Nickelback), and making sure that somewhere, at sometime, someone tweeted about Jesus! We also had a web designer – and www.tweetremembrance.com now looks pretty and will continue to develop this week. We had a pacifist who pushed us towards the naming of Conscientious Objectors. And we had a dedicated person who put together all the tweets in timecodes potentially at the cost of their university dissertation!
3. The genius of a known liturgical pattern
One of the huge advantages of Remembrance Services is that people know what they expect. This was not a gimmick, and we deliberately decided not to abbreviate words or sentences wherever possible. The pattern or flow of the service lent itself to being put into tweets, almost like lines of poetry stitched together tweet after tweet. I am not sure that any other form of non-conformist worship pattern would work in the same way (and perhaps my Church of England friends and colleagues have a greater opportunity to hand with Common Worship…) We were clear that we were compiling and creating a traditional and formal Act of Remembrance – and this is what we achieved.
4. Armistice Day’s unexpected success
It was not just because of the media hype that Armistice Day’s service was a moving and successful ‘experiment.’ It has become clear that one of the outcomes from the service was that people were engaging with Twitter Remembrance whilst also being at work. People were viewing the stream in separate windows (and in one conversation on a separate machine!) Whereas on Sunday many people made an intentional effort to attend their own Act of Remembrance, on Armistice Day itself, Twitter enabled people to remember and to worship wherever people were. What has also become evident is that a large number of participants were Ex-pats around the world, who for many, had not had an opportunity to attend a Remembrance Service since they left the UK.
5. The power of Names
We know that names are important. But this was brought home to us most vividly as, at 11.04am, people were invited to post the names of people they were remembering using the hashtag #weremember. Name after name was retweeted – up to one a second – for the rest of the service. These names will be collated and put onto the website as an online Cenotaph to people injured or fallen in conflicts around the world. Many people commented on this act confessing that they were brought to tears at this point. No longer can it even be suggested that social media is merely cerebral. This was a powerful, poignant and deeply emotional act of participation. This participation continues even today.
6. What happens when Twitter stops
On both occasions, it has to be noted, we encountered massive technical difficulties. Not only did the trial run fail (what else are trial runs for?!), but Twitter blocked @Poppy_Tweet for posting during both services. On Friday, the reigns were taken by @MethodistMedia, and on Sunday through @revjoannecox – however, for future reference, it may be helpful to find a way around the Tweet limit – or to work out how it is calculated!
7. Media training required
Never before has my media training in theological college been more needed. When the press get hold of story like this, then things happen very fast indeed. Newspapers, phone interviews and radio shows all booked both James and myself throughout the weekend. What made it a story? – there are all sorts of answers to this, some more cynical than others. What is clear, however, is that is was a story. The first ever Remembrance Service to be broadcast through Twitter. So – how do we include media training in our social media world?!
8. Was it worship?
And so to the million dollar question. Was the service worship? Did people worship through Twitter and during the Remembrance Day service? I think the answer to this may well be ‘yes’. But what do you think? Was this an act of worship in which people met with God? How might we be able to develop other acts of worship on Twitter, if indeed this was worship? And perhaps more provocatively – does this experience open up the ancient question ‘could this actually be church…?’