Monday, February 23, 2009

What Were We Tweeting When the Human Rights Lawyers Were Killed?

Advanced Topics in Twitter and Human Rights Law

Amidst this worldwide economic downturn, and in The Year of Twitter it is certainly understandable for us all to get excited about the inherent business potential of this new online social media.

However, although the practice of law is a business, lawyers have a particular responsibility to stand up for the rule of law – and for those lawyers who dedicate their professional lives to protecting the fundamental human rights of themselves and others.

Although I aspire to use Twitter to support Human Rights Lawyers more than I have, my work to do so has been an informative journey in advanced topics in using Twitter, particularly hashtags and retweeting.


Hashtags are a tool to help those using search together with Twitter to have a conversation on a limited topic. Hashtags are included in Twitter messages, and can be recognized with the pound sign attached (i.e. "#lawschool"). The Twitterer using a hashtag may seek to enter an existing conversation, or that person may seek to start a conversation on a particular topic.

The great thing about hashtags is that you can just make them up, once you follow the @hashtags Twitter user from and it will automatically will follow you back.

As I was working on developing the hashtag for Attorney Gao Zhisheng, I initially came up with “#zhng” or an abbreviation of his last name.

Now that I have seen hashtags such as “#americanidol” and “#oscaradwatch“ I realize there was little reason to abbreviate the name, and I have come to learn that popular terms without the "#" will also come up in hashtag searches, or Twitter Searches.

At the same time, the publications were referring to Attorney Zhisheng as “Mr. Gao” and I wondered if this was the same phenomenon I have never clearly understood that allows Ichiro Suzuki to be the only player in Major League Baseball to put his first name on the back of his jersey.

Whever the reason, I figured a “#gao” hashtag may personalize Attorney Zhisheng for American Tweeple, and make the effort to spread word of his situation on Twitter more effective.

However, I should have used the search function on to check before creating the hashtag, as another Twitter user had already used “#gao” in an unrelated way when tweeting about the Government Accounting Office (and their reports on the lack of paid health care benefits for U.S. Soldiers).


The other Twitter topic I got to know better in my quest to spread the word about human rights lawyers unjustly detained or killed was the art of asking others to "Retweet" my Twitter message. Although I'm not sure that all of the involved government and military officials are on Twitter, there have been a number of Twitter campaigns that have had a real world impact.

How to Retweet is best covered the Related Articles below, but in brief there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. You "ask" people who see your Twitter message to "Retweet" (or cut and paste and then re-post on their own Twitter page) by including "Pls. RT" in your message (i.e. Please Retweet)

2. Those who are kind enough to Retweet your message, do so with attribution, starting with "RT" or "Retweet" or "Tweet Tweet" and then the address from where they found this 140 character informational jewel (i.e. "RT @barrettdavid") before the text of the message.

3. You have limited Re-tweet capital, so spend it wisely. Folks who see your request may think to themselves, "what has s/he done for me lately" and opt to ignore your plea. As @guykawasaki says "We all want to be Retweeted."

4. You may have to educate your followers on what retweeting is, how to do it and why to do it.

As examples, I have listed my "Top Human Rights Tweets":

Nobel Contender Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Disappears - (pls RT) #zhng

Markelov Assassination Tied to Release of Budanov? - #mrklv (pls RT)

Markelov Killed For Human Rights Law Work - (Please ReTweet) #mrklv

(Pls ReTweet) Russia: Investigate Murder of Prominent Rights Lawyer #mrklv

BonnieRN: RT @barrettdavid Nobel Contender Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Disappears - RT) #gao

Related Articles:

How to Start a Twitter Hashtag

An Introduction to Twitter Hashtags

Hashing Through Twitter Hashtags -- a Look at Structured Conversation

Explore the Twitter Hashtag

The Art and Science of Retweeting for Twitteraholics

Retweet: The Infectious Power Of Word Of Mouth

How to Retweet

How to Retweet: Format and Convention

International Human Rights Law Resources

PROFILES IN COURAGE - China's rights defenders

Human Rights Watch, Stay Informed - Get action alerts, breaking news and updates

Beyond Obama’s Order to Close Guantanamo

International human rights law

Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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