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The 10 most important people on Twitter in 2011

Twitter is the online community’s public square. Here’s the Daily Dot’s list of the ten most important voices in it.


Fernando Alfonso III

Internet Culture

The Daily Dot is the hometown newspaper for the Web’s varied communities. If there’s one public square, a shared space where they meet, it’s Twitter. Here are the people to watch.

This past year, Twitter has set itself apart as the message-broadcasting tool of choice for protesters, politicians, terrorists, celebrities, and hackers alike around the world.

With the platform now collecting about 230 million tweets per day, it’s hard to see Twitter losing its place as the spot where everyone comes together to talk to the planet.

So the question is, who are the Twitter users who will influence the masses of people yet to sign on?

Websites like Twitaholic would have you think influence is a numbers game. At the top of their list: Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga, two singers who have more than 31 million followers combined.

We disagree. Sure, a tweet from Lady Gaga about her new single may sell records and spawn a handful of trending topics, but that does not represent everything on Twitter.

Influential Twitter users spread news that matters; make you stop and scratch your head; prompt you to yell, cry, or laugh. These are folks who are more concerned with packing as much value into 140 characters as possible than in maximizing the size of their follower list.

Here’s our list of the most influential people on Twitter this year. Agree? Disagree? Weigh in below, or tell me what you think on Twitter.

Anonymous (@anonymousIRC) The Masked Marauders

In the post-WikiLeaks era, very few movements and organizations have consistently captured the world’s attention like international hacker syndicate Anonymous. From its run-ins with the Los Zetas drug cartel in Mexico to planned attacked against Fox News, Anonymous has consistently used Twitter to spread word of their attacks and support free speech and decry corporate and government meddling in media.

Anonymous has even hacked the Internet accounts of criminals in hopes of delivering a rough form of justice. About five months ago Anonymous hacked the Twitter account of Anders Behring Breivik, the man responsible for killing more than 60 people at a Norwegian youth camp in July, and deleted almost all of his messages.

(Anyone can be Anonymous, and there are many accounts on Twitter maintained in the movement’s name. But @anonymousIRC gives the movement its biggest reach.)

Andy Carvin (@acarvin) Edward R. Murrow 2.0

During WWII, broadcaster Edward R. Murrow was the voice millions of Americans turned to for accuracy and entertainment. During the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya this year, that voice of comfort belonged to NPR strategist Andy Carvin. And instead of hearing the sounds of The Blitz over the radio, Americans made do with Carvin’s messages of 140 characters or less.

Carvin is a Twitter addict who used the microblogging platform to factcheck stories, translate interviews and tweet events live during the Arab Spring. His tweets during the Tunisian uprising, in particular, are a thing of legend, showing off the strengths of the platform.

“I’ve been able to do what I’ve done so far because my Twitter followers want me to succeed at this, and they’re willing to lend their expertise when I need it,” Carvin told The Washington Post. “There’s no shame in a journalist telling members of the public ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Can you help me?’ I think journalism would be all the better if we did this more often, both online and offline.”

The Onion @theonion Fake News Juggernaut
3.3 million followers

What does it mean when a pretend news organization has one of the biggest followings on Twitter among media groups? Well, a whole lot. With an army of followers that trumps The Washington Post, Fox News, and the Associated Press, The Onion has proven itself to be a force to be reckoned with. Two months ago, a tweet about a hostage situation at the Capitol—as satirical as the rest of the Onion’s output—caused an uproar in the real world as people tried to figure out if it was a put-on. After the incident, Gelf Magazine created the Real or Onion iPhone app that asks users to decide on whether a headline is real or from The Onion. Twitter followers, though, know that the Onion is the real fake thing.

Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) Tweeter of Record

New York Times media reporter Brian Stelter’s influence is unparalleled. For Stelter, tweets are more than just a way to drive readers to the Times. They are a free-flowing narrative that provides shrewd insight, a personal look into the belly of the Times, and regular interactions with plain old Twitter folk. Whether he’s live-tweeting an Occupy Wall Street protest or reporting on the return of “Jersey Shore”, Stelter’s messages are retweeted by some of the most savvy  tweeters out there. But even after three years worth of tweeting, Stelter is still refining his skills. In June Stelter accidentally left himself logged into his account on a computer at an Apple store in New York. And just last week he accidentally revealed that Christiane Amanpour would be departing as host of ABC’s “This Week” before the network, or Amanpour, had confirmed it. In both these cases Stelter quickly apologized for his mistakes, setting himself apart from an army of journalists who wouldn’t dare apologize for anything without checking with an editor first.

Barack Obama (@barackobama) Commander-in-Tweet
11.6 million followers

As the most popular world leader on Twitter, President Barack Obama has set himself apart from the rest. Following a live Twitter Town Hall meeting on July 6, Obama’s list of followers, and number of daily tweets, have grown exponentially. While most tweets read like a condensed press release, other have been rather poignant and at times, controversial.

During the budget debates, Obama encouraged people on Twitter to contact their Congressional representatives in Washington to push forward a bipartisan debt plan. He also urged tweeters to use the #compromise hashtag to promote a debt deal. This tactic seemed to have backfired, as Obama lost more than 36,000 followers, while Republican accounts gained more than 6,500 followers. But he rebounded by changing the terms of the payroll-tax debate with his clever use of the #40dollars hashtag.

Roger Ebert (@ebertchicago) Movie Mogul

He’s lost part of his jaw to throat cancer. But legendary movie critic Roger Ebert still has a big mouth when it comes to movies, thanks to Twitter. He also comments on current events like the death of Kim Jong-Il and the Republican presidential debates. He usually links to posts on his own site or news clips he finds interesting.

After a long career and his prolonged fight with cancer, he’s unafraid of speaking his mind, as he did after Jackass star Ryan Dunn died in a horrific car accident, tweeting “Friends don’t let jackasses drink and drive.”

That tweet quickly circulated around the web, drawing ire from thousands of fans, including friend and costar Bam Margera. “I just lost my best friend, I have been crying hysterical for a full day and piece of shit roger ebert has the gall to put in his 2 cents,” tweeted Margera. Ebert defended his tweet in a blog post—and even though enraged “Jackass” fans briefly got his Facebook page yanked, Ebert has kept on going.

Questlove (@questlove) Alarm Raiser
1.8 million followers

Ahmir Khalib Thompson, better known as Questlove, is the mild-mannered drummer for Grammy Award-winning band The Roots. Like Ebert, Questlove is a master at his craft who spends an exorbitant amount of time tweeting about anything and everything he sees, from everyday hashtags to a racist sign posted in the NBC cafeteria in “celebration” of Black History Month. But it was a tweet on Nov. 14 that set Questlove apart from the rest. While traveling through lower Manhattan near  Zuccotti Park, the headquarters for the Occupy Wall Street movement, he reported seeing about 1,000 police officers preparing to “pull sneak attack” on the protesters. Sure enough, the raid came early the next morning.

Pauly Casillas @paulypeligroso Parody Patron Saint
More than 436,000 followers across four accounts

The Twitter parody-account empire created by Arizona native Pauly Casillas is nothing to laugh about. Over the last two years, Casillas has been the driving force behind  @notgarybusey, @notjaycutler, and @bestworstadvice,  three of the funniest, raunchiest parody accounts around.

They’re also controversial. After two years’ worth of jokes under @notgarybusey, an account parodying the quirky actor Gary Busey, someone—possibly Busey himself—submitted a valid impersonation report to Twitter, leading to its suspension. Within moments of the suspension, the hashtag #freegarybusey quickly became a top trending topic, with other accounts like @jesus_m_christ and @nicknolte came to the defense of their parodic brethren.

Occupy Wall Street (@OccupyWallst) Protest Pronouncer

Since this fall, scarcely a day went by without news breaking on Twitter about the Occupy movements. The dozens of Occupy Twitter accounts around the country have helped organize thousands of protests and unify people around its causes. While Twitter has been the source of some confusion for Occupy Wall Street and the movements it’s inspired, it’s also been used to hep track atleast 26 journalists arrested during the protests.  Josh Stearns, the associate program director of media watchdog group Free Press, used Twitter to track arrests by compiling the snippets into a meticulously managed Storify.

Andy Borowitz (@borowitzreport) Twitcom Legend

Back in the 1990s, Andy Borowitz was the creative force behind “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” featuring a young Will Smith. Today, his famed show is in syndication and Borowitz has taken to Twitter where his tweets about the Republican presidential debate and Dr. Conrad Murray have left thousands of people in stitches.

Honorable mentions: @Ed, @TW1TT3Rart, @lexinyt, @slashleen, @Strange_Sanum

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