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A Flash Protest Against Washington Sweeps Over Twitter

BY Nick Judd | Monday, July 25 2011

Jeff Jarvis. Photo: re:publica / Flickr

Over the weekend, as negotiations over the national debt continued to stagnate, blogger and journalism professor Jeff Jarvis did what so many of us sometimes do: After a drink or two, angry about something on TV news, he ranted about it on Twitter.

The thing is, @jeffjarvis has 75,000-some-odd followers. So when he strikes a chord that resonates with the national tune — in this case, one about frustration over debt talks that seem destined to stretch out until the last possible minute — he can draw a lot of people into the jam session, very quickly.

That's exactly what happened on Saturday, Jarvis recounted on his blog, when he took to Twitter to give the digital equivalent of a raised finger to the figures in the D.C. swamp who have yet to sort out how the nation will deal with its debt situation.

"It was the pinot talking," Jarvis writes. But after another Twitter user suggested a hashtag — a not-safe-for-the-family-blog one outlined below — Jarvis' vino was no longer the only voice in the chorus. The hashtag, "#FuckYouWashington," began trending across the country. Topsy.com reports that it accumulated over 63,000 messages inside one day. As a point of comparison, the #AskObama hashtag used to posit questions for the president of the United States for a recent event accumulated 103,000 posts in total, according to the same service — and the White House(!) began promoting that hashtag days before the event. The TheTeaParty.net-sponsored @140townhall event from last week garnered just a few thousand tweets.

Not bad, for a man and his bottle.

"I didn’t intend this to be anything more than spouting off in 140 profane characters," Jarvis writes. "It turns out that the people of Twitter taught me a lesson that I thought I was teaching myself in Public Parts, about the potential of a public armed with a Gutenberg press in every pocket, with its tools of publicness."

The flash Twitter protest Jarvis started has accrued attention from many quarters, including Slate and The Miami Herald. It joins other Twitter initiatives, such as a petition against cuts to Social Security and another one against an earlier debt proposal. Whether it has any effect on the debt negotiations — both the White House and House Speaker John Boehner maintain active Twitter presences and profess to listen there, but neither have directly addressed the anger of other folks on the platform — we may never know.