Garbology, twittology

It’s important to use social media like Twitter to make sense of things

Ayame Ulrich

Sociologists use many ways to collect information about societies, in order to gain a better understanding of certain behaviours.

One of those ways is garbology, which means the study of a society or culture by examining or analyzing its refuse.

If we can look at what people have left in their dump and call it a scientific way to collect data, why not look at the 140 letters they wrote on a social networking site and call it “twittology”?

Some people may argue that I’m giving social media more credit than it deserves.

However, social media is nothing if not an online interaction about specific issues, in a space where the impact of state, society and cultural norms are decreased.

In fact, Twitter gave me the chance as a curious person who loves to watch people (with only innocent intentions), to follow people’s reactions over one story that recently happened in Saudi Arabia.

The story in question happened on Feb. 15. About 50 religious fanatics stormed into the location of Al-Janadrya Festival in Riyadh, claiming that there are sins committed between men and women there. They had come up with this conclusion based on Internet “Fatwa” (religious opinion), and decided to fix this immoral situation with verbal assaults.

Al-Janadrya culture festival is an annual national heritage and folk cultural festival. Traditional activities, including folk dances, camel races, arts and crafts exhibits as well as poetry readings are showcased for the entire duration of the festival. It lasts for two weeks and is organized by the National Guard.

During the time this story was happening, I followed some people’s reactions on Twitter. I can summarize the reactions thusly:

One group was upset with what they called “religious police.” They argued that this group shouldn’t even exist, and certainly shouldn’t be able to tell us how to be responsible and moral – we’re old enough to do that. I noticed that the number of people in this outraged group increase every time a story similar to this one comes up.

Another group wants these fanatical people to generally continue doing what they do, claiming that what happened in this story was just a mistake of few individuals.

A third group was totally okay with what happened, believing that this is the way it should be. This was not a significantly large group of people.

My point is that Twitter gives me the opportunity to see ordinary people’s reaction to certain issues, as opposed to the images from the media, which are far from real life; I get to do this without the limitations that people experience in everyday life, the taboos or restrictions imposed on people.

It’s important to use social media such as Twitter to make sense of things and find out what people think, especially for those who have it as the only way to use their right to freedom of expression.

Fatemah Al Helal is an international student who was awarded her first degree in food and nutritional science. She is currently majoring in sociology at the University of Winnipeg. More of Fatemah’s writings can be found at

Published in Volume 66, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 22, 2012)

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