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twitchfork

noun [countable]

an aggressive form of organized protest via the Twitter short messaging service, or via other kinds of social media

twitchfork mob

noun [countable]

a large group of internet users involved in a TWITCHFORK

'Twitter tattle and the trouble with twitchforks … The #twitterblackout fighting 'censorship' is yet another example of how social networking militates against thinking for yourself.'

The Guardian 30th January 2012

'It has become something of a truism that managing brands has become difficult, if not impossible, in the age of social media, given it's now so much easier for consumers to compare notes and, if necessary, start a Twitchfork mob that's more powerful than any strongly worded editorial.'

Irish Times 3rd May 2012

It's a fact of life that people can always find something, or someone, to complain about, whether it's the state of the economy, TV schedules, an annoying neighbour, or your internet service provider. In previous generations, unless they had a professional or personal link with the media, people could only communicate their feelings to a limited number of individuals. Today, by contrast, the World Wide Web gives us a public, and moreover global, platform to vent our frustrations with anyone and everyone. In the last couple of years this phenomenon has had a particularly vehement manifestation in what has been dubbed the twitchfork, an aggressive form of protest mounted on Twitter or other social media.

twitchforks can incite people into criticism and abuse just for the sake of it, as they become carried along by a wave of highly-visible protest
 

A twitchfork occurs when a large number of people openly and angrily criticize something via Twitter, Facebook etc. This vehement attack of negativity can be directed towards an organisation or an individual, and involves bombarding the target with verbal unpleasantness and even threats, usually anonymously. As this kind of attack typically involves substantial numbers of people, protestors are often collectively dubbed a twitchfork mob (a mob is a large, noisy group of people who can sometimes be angry and disruptive).

The potential impact of a twitchfork protest shouldn't be underestimated, playing for example a key role in the demise of the tabloid newspaper News of the World in the context of the News International phone hacking scandal in 2011. The flipside, however, is that twitchforks can incite people into criticism and abuse just for the sake of it, as they become carried along by a wave of highly-visible protest that they may not have even given a second thought to had it not been served up on whatever social media tool they happened to be using. As well as encouraging the tendency to jump on the bandwagon, twitchforks often appear to fall into the trap of not properly verifying the facts. By its very nature a 140 character tweet may not be able to give a detailed account of the issues, causing information to become distorted and ultimately unreliable. It seems then that the word twitchfork may carry negative connotations of an ugly, unpleasant form of protest which is not always justified or grounded in reality.

Background – twitchfork

The word twitchfork first began to appear in 2009, and is a blend of twitter, in its new social networking sense, and the noun pitchfork. A pitchfork is a large, fork-like tool, which is used on farms for carrying hay, but could easily be used as a weapon. Historically, angry mobs storming barricades are often depicted carrying torches and wielding pitchforks. By analogy, 21st century protestors reach for computers and mobile phones in order to bombard their targets with verbal weapons.

Twitchfork is of course just another recent addition to the ever-growing collection of

Twitchfork is of course just another recent addition to the ever-growing collection of Twitter-inspired words. Other recent examples on the same theme include twitition, a blend of twitter and petition used to describe a petition which is signed and shared on Twitter, and twitistics, a blend of twitter and statistics which refers to statistics appearing on the site, often in relation to a twitition. In other domains, a couple of my recent favourite 'Twitterisms' are twagiarism, which is using someone's words on Twitter as if they were your own (ie: twitter + plagiarism) and twitchiking, which is declaring your need for transport on Twitter and subsequently being offered a lift (ie: twitter + hitchhiking). People who do this are correspondingly dubbed twitchikers.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 18th June 2012.

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