Top 10 moments in social media in 2009


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This year was certainly significant in the world of online social media. Facebook surpassed 350 million users -- more than the U.S. population -- and Twitter’s short blogging service skyrocketed in popularity, led by celebs, tech lovers and top companies.

Here’s a look back at 2009’s biggest events in which social media played a major role.

10. ‘Word of Web.’ As people spent more time chatting online and in public spaces like Twitter, buzz surrounding product and entertainment releases became instantly quantifiable. The elusive word-of-mouth promotion could now be measured, and ‘word of Web’ became that new currency. (Marketers love to use the word ‘viral.’)


The movie ‘District 9’ played the game rather well. The low-budget sci-fi flick started the buzz train early with cryptic alien decals around major cities before its release. Despite relatively low advertising spending, the movie did extremely well. The fact that it was actually a good film certainly didn’t hurt.

9. Whopper Sacrifice. Facebook was quick to kill this marketing ploy, but Burger King had a picnic with this one. The Whopper Sacrifice game asked Facebook users to delete 10 friends in exchange for a free burger. In just a couple of weeks, 233,906 friends were dropped like a bad habit.

It proved to be a hilariously successful way to promote a brand that seemed to get only more controversial and creepy over the course of the year.

8. Google Wave. In Gmail-like fashion, the exclusive nature of Google’s newest product (people vied for a limited number of invitations from friends) made it the must-have free service of 2009. Of course, once people finally got hold of Wave, their lust died down.

The interface is still pretty confusing, and the team continues to struggle with growing pains in its mission to create a stable collaboration platform. However, it packs some intriguing technologies that could very well transform journalism in addition to a number of industries. But right now, e-mail replacement it is not.

7. Twitter and Facebook under hack attack. Just when it seemed like Twitter had finally outgrown its glitches and constant bandwidth overload at the beginning of the year, summertime rolled around and, poof!, Twitter was down. And Facebook. And LiveJournal. And YouTube. What’s going on?

It was the first major malicious attack that successfully targeted a number of massive social sites. It wouldn’t be the last. A source at Twitter tells us the denial-of-service attacks had been going on for months, and they were also aimed at Facebook, which was seeing increased downtime too.


In addition to the site-aimed missiles, users were increasingly targeted for phishing scams. They were showing up in practically everyone’s Facebook inbox and Twitter direct message list.

As Microsoft knows all too well with its Windows platform, along with majority market share comes an army of bad guys.

6. Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN. In lieu of creating a separate list for ‘top 1 stupidest moments in social media,’ we guess this deserves a mention. The former star of ‘That 70s Show,’ under the guise of his Twitter alias @aplusk, led a high-profile campaign against CNN’s breaking news account.

The @cnnbrk profile was among the most popular on the social network at the time when Kutcher challenged the news network to a race to a million subscribers. The winner would donate money to a malaria charity.

Amid all the free promotion, the ridiculousness factor multiplied by a hundred when we saw digital billboards springing up with the directive ‘follow Ashton Kutcher’ and a link to his page.

Kutcher won, and you can’t downplay such unstoppable tactics as Twittering a few, um, choice photos of his wife, Demi Moore. Lucky twit.


5. Susan Boyle launches career. Perhaps the most notable product of that ‘word of Web’ we talked about earlier, this 48-year-old Scottish singer rose from absolute obscurity after low-key appearances on ‘Britain’s Got Talent,’ England’s precursor to ‘American Idol.’

Videos of the dowdy singer resonated online as the YouTube videos echoed in every corner of social media. Both Boyle and show creator Simon Cowell have acknowledged the massive role the Internet played in her newfound fame.

4. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. TMZ was the first to confirm Michael Jackson’s death. For an hour or so while news organizations cautiously ignored or speculated on its validity, the social Net was ablaze with mourning and cynicism. By the time the L.A. Times confirmed the news, the information was already being debated to death on Twitter in bite-size bits.

The death of one of the biggest pop stars in recent history was a perfect example of how quickly big news can spread on the Web.

3. R.I.P. Jeff Goldblum? The Web is also fantastic at quickly spreading misinformation. Most of the time, you don’t even need a bogus news story to accompany your false tweet.

Here’s a list of notable people who didn’t die this year but had their ‘obitweets’ spread far and wide: Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, George Clooney, Britney Spears, Ellen DeGeneres, Michael Lohan, alleged Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan, Jared from Subway, Emma Watson and P. Diddy.

2. Iran ‘green’ protests. The violent political protests in Iran spurred support from countless international sympathizers in the form of turning their avatars green (not to be confused with turning blue for ‘Avatar’ or going ‘50s cartoony for ‘Mad Men.’)


Though the movement was really big on Twitter and prevalent on the streets of Iran, no change actually happened. The revolt, dubbed the ‘Twitter Revolution,’ was listed as Salon’s third-most-bogus story of the year.

1. Hudson River plane landing. Demonstrating the true power of social media, the iPhone snapshot of the rescue mission in the Hudson River was legendary. The picture says a thousand words about how no moment has to be missed just because a reporter or photographer didn’t happen to be near the scene. Anyone can be a reporter for a moment and broadcast to the world.

Think we missed something big in social media? Let us know in the comments.

-- Mark Milian

Reporting contributed by Andrew Nystrom

Top photo: Twitter creator Jack Dorsey. Credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times. Middle photo: Ashton Kutcher. Credit: Associated Press. Bottom photo: Hudson River plane landing. Credit: Janis Krums via Twitpic