On Twitter, the Jewish Telegraph Agency, and real life.

Update (in three parts):

#1. JTA was gracious enough to tweet a link to this post, calling it a “thoughtful critique.” Which, you know, if you’re going to be all gracious and everything, I’m going to have to say that that’s very nice of you. Very nice, JTA! Thank you.

#2. Also, my All Things Internet pal Vicki Boykis (you can see her down there in the comments to this very post, even!) wrote a really good post about the list (also graciously tweeted by JTA) from an entirely different angle, explaining the much more technical and social-media specific problems with the list, some of which I vaguely sensed but could not have begun to explain to myself, much less to anyone else.

#3. Even though I was smart enough to point out that many people don’t know from Twitter, Vicki was even smarter and posted an explanation for those not on it.

bonus #4! Point is: Vicki’s very smart. And wry, and clever, and you really should be reading her. (Plus which, I just corrected my months-long mis-spelling of her name on my blog roll, which she was too gracious to ever point out, so, yeah… there’s that, too).


Easily the craziest thing to happen to me in 2010 happened when the year was almost done.

Last Thursday, December 30, the Jewish Telegraph Agency (aka JTA, a kind of a Jewish AP) posted its list of the 100 Most Influential Jewish Twitter Users for 2010.

I’m #28.

To give you some perspective on this, let me fill you in on a few of the folks I bested:

  1. Danny Ayalon (Israel’s boorish deputy foreign minister)
  2. the Jewish Agency
  3. AIPAC

Yes, that’s right: In Twitterverse, I am more influential than AIPAC.

Now, we all know that I love me my Twitter. I use it as a combination clipping service, source of Awesome Information I’d Never Otherwise Hear, branding device, and virtual water cooler. I have online friends who I know almost exclusively through Twitter, people who genuinely brighten and add to my day, in 140-character increments.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more convincing argument for Twitter’s utter lack of real world applicability than my place on that list. Indeed, on that list a cautionary tale hangs.

Twitter is a place where I carefully pick and choose who I talk to, what I read, and who can talk to me. If people seek me out to yell at me, I block them. This is one of the beauty parts of the service, frankly, but it’s also a piece of a larger, more important truth:

Twitter doesn’t reflect the world.

Indeed, I would argue that there is no such thing (no real thing, no quantifiable thing) as “Twitter,” at least not in the sense that there is a New York Times, or even a Huffington Post. There are as many Twitters as there are people with Twitter handles, and those individual Twitters don’t reflect the world — they reflect the people on the other side of the handles.

My Twitter reflects me. I’m sharing information and laffs with people who are, for whatever reason, and however tangentially, Like Me. It’s true that a bunch of people who are very much Not Like Me have started to follow me in the wake of the publication of the JTA list, but a) I have every reason to believe that many of them will soon stop (like the settler, for instance), and b) even if they’re Not Like Me in Twitter terms? They’re still Like Me in tech terms.

Put it this way: @AIPAC might be on Twitter, but AIPAC isn’t on Twitter.

AIPAC — that is to say, the people meeting with Senators and helping to shape our national discourse on Israel — are not reading the 140-character missives of tens of thousands of people, and neither are they crafting their own missives. They’re too busy meeting with Senators and helping to shape our national discourse on Israel. Similarly, (most of) the people who donate to AIPAC and believe every word that AIPAC utters are also not on Twitter. They’re too old.

Indeed, the vast majority of people — whether they regularly meet with Senators, are old, or not — are not on Twitter. All told, Twitter has some 145 million “registered users,” but there’s no way of knowing (because Twitter apparently doesn’t want to tell us) how many of these people actually use the service. This is a world of seven billion people. A whole lot of whom (even just among the Jews) don’t even own computers.

Before the list came out, I had about 370 Twitter followers. I always block people who have followed me solely to sell me something, so at least I can say that that list represents real people who actively chose to follow me, but a) I have no way of knowing who reads what and how often, and b) 370 people. Dude.

There are Jewish Twitter accounts with twice, three, nine times as many followers as I have who fell below me on the JTA list — many of whom  are, moreover, confident enough in their Cool Kid status to completely ignore me, even when I actively seek to engage them (ok, so they’re also rude, but that’s neither here nor there).

If I actually have influence on Twitter (and I think the foregoing suggests that to be a pretty big “if”), and if the JTA isn’t really just making a mountain out of an exceptionally small and particularly narrowly defined molehill (re-read the bit about how people were chosen, before the fancy metrics were applied), and if having influence on Twitter is even something that can be usefully measured — it clearly means nothing.

Because AIPAC, and the Jewish Agency, and Danny Ayalon are the ones actually calling the shots — some of the shots, at any rate, a hell of a lot more shots than I ever even hear about, much less get to influence. And I live in Real Life, not Twitterverse.

So, to sum up: Twitter is very nice. But it is not Real Life.

Just look at me!


  1. Well congratulations anyway! They have a very specific definition of “impact” and you obviously fit the bill! Clear thinking is often more impactful than a big name, ya know?

  2. I’m giving you a shout-out, anyway, ee, because it’s still pretty damn cool. Huzzah!

  3. Thanks for approaching it from another direction than clearly technical. What you say is absolutely correct. The people that REALLY matter are definitely not on Twitter; they are behind the scenes more frequently than broadcasting it. I.e. Does Obama really Tweet? I doubt it. But I’m sure that he often gets on “Top Twitter Accounts” lists.

  4. sue swartz

     /  January 5, 2011

    Just so you know, Ms. Emily: I included a link to your column on words & Israel on my Top 10 of 2010 best list (and yes, this is a shameless plusg: http://swartzsue.wordpress.com/2010/12/31/year-end-top-10/) and my friend who just happens to be a rabbi spent a serious amount of time trolling around your space rather than do more rabbi-ish things. You rock, my dear, you rock! Even if you ain’t real.

    • No shame in shameless plugging! Or plusging, for that matter! Plug away! (And all others should click!)

      I’m sure there’s some joke to be made in the “you ain’t real” “rabbi” “Velveteen Rabbit” “velveteen rabbi” area, but I’m not coming up with it…. It would have been awesome, though.

      (Thank you! :))

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