Vancouver Newsmaker of the Year: Social media

Social media powered the top stories of 2011, including our runner-up choice the Stanley Cup riot

Social media is not new. Social media in Vancouver, the birthplace of Flickr and Hootsuite, is also not new.

But when our newsroom sat down to examine the top stories of the year, one thing stood out: whether it was the Stanley Cup riot, the civic election, Occupy Vancouver or the debate about the proposed downtown casino, social media powered these events and the debates around them to an extent not seen before in this city. Its our Vancouver Newsmaker for 2011.

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Vancouverites jumped onto social media tools to organize and inform this year. And many of us experienced this years major stories through those same tools. How did you first hear about the Stanley Cup riot? Where did you get your Occupy Vancouver news from? Theres a good chance it came to you 140 characters at a time.

The 2008 civic election had websites, blogs, texting and news feeds. The dominant smartphone was the BlackBerry. We thought we were pretty hip back then. Three years later, the 2011 civic election was awash in Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Twitpic, Instagram and dozens of other apps increasingly used on mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and a million varieties of Android. In 2008, most Vancouverites spoke relatively normal English. In 2011, we used a vocabulary that approached gibberish. I just tweeted my Klout score and put a screenshot on Google+. Hang on, just got an alert@Ben1965 just unfriended me. Uh huh.

Social media lived up to its promise to make the political and social playing field more level in Vancouver. The mega casino opponents used it to organize and kill a sure-thing proposal backed by big money and political insiders. Ordinary citizens used it to identify alleged rioters (to a disturbing vigilante-like level). Occupy Vancouver used it to organize and remain relevant long past its expiry date.

Whether social medias move to the centre of civic life is a good thing is unclear. Most Vancouverites dont use it. Twitter estimated in September that it has 100 million active users. Facebook claims it has 800 million. Thats a lot of people, but not on a planet of seven billion. The percentage of social media users in a city like Vancouver is no doubt higher than reckoning based on global figures, but still likely a minority.

That means we have a civic subset, those actively engaged in social and political life in Vancouver, who are organizing and engaging through techno-social means. They are the people, from city hall to street protesters, who are making and influencing the decisions about life in this city. The rest of us? If were not on social media, were out of the conversation. Welcome to the new two solitudes of our time.

Our runner-up for Vancouver Newsmaker was an obvious choice: the Stanley Cup riot. No other story in 2011 came close, and that says something about a year that included the Canucks and the Stanley Cup, record public hearings about a mega casino, a civic election that cemented Vision Vancouvers hold on the city and a tent city downtown.

Vancouverites were thrilled with themselves after the 2010 Olympic Games. We entered 2011 with optimism, which even the rancorous debate over the casino proposal did not diminish. The Canucks powerful journey to the Stanley Cup final fuelled that cockiness more. We believed we came of age in 2010 (forgetful we had done the same in 1986 and 1954), and 2011 was our year again.

That hubris was shattered June 15 like the dozens of store windows smashed during the riot. In one dark night, we went from elation to shock, anger and shame.

Tourism Vancouver president and CEO Rick Antonson, one of our contributors in this issue, put it well by describing the riot as a black eye thats healed and is no longer noticed by the world at large. Yet internally you feel you are still walking around with a visible black eye, he added.

Does the riot still haunt us? Just ask your Twitter or Facebook friends.

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