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Bearing Witness 2.0 -- On Twitter Feed, A Man Tells His Story of Living With HIV (w/ TRANSCRIPT)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   December 2, 2009    1:23 PM ET

*UPDATED: Transcript of entire Twitter stream below*

On Twitter, we are each others' witnesses, one tweet at a time.

Chris MacDonald-Dennis gave new meaning to that Tuesday night when within two hours -- firing off 100 tweets in succession, totaling some 2,100 words and chronicling the narrative arc of his 40-year-old life -- he came out as HIV-positive on his Twitter stream. It was timed for World AIDS Day. MacDonald-Dennis, who is openly gay and openly HIV-positive, is dean of Intercultural Affairs at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia. In the middle of his Twitter feed, shortly after finding out that he was positive, he wrote:

I went through a range of emotions: anger, sadness, fear. I remember brushing my teeth and my gums bleeding. I burst into...

tears knowing people would be afraid of me

After sharing the pain of growing up in a violent, difficult home and the taunts that went with being "a sissy in a place that did not allow sissies" -- neighborhood bullies sent him to the hospital at age 9 -- MacDonald-Dennis recounted the night he had unprotected sex with Rick, his former boyfriend who ended up infecting him. He tweeted:

I remember when he did not put on a condom. I wanted to say something. But I was afraid that he would leave

That void I described stopped me. I was more afraid he would leave than protecting myself

Why Twitter is the Most Popular Word of 2009

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 30, 2009    2:02 PM ET

Of course Twitter is the most popular English word of the year.

Yesterday, the Global Language Monitor declared the San Francisco-based micro-blogging site as the top English word of 2009. In a decade marked by the growth of most everything Internet-related, this marked the first time a Web company has earned that distinction. MySpace (founded in 2003), Facebook (in 2004) and YouTube (2005) never made that spot in their early years.

But Twitter's achievement also underlines a sobering reality -- one that President Obama, a BlackBerry addict, hinted at in a town hall meeting in Shanghai two weeks ago. Asked via the Internet if the Chinese should be able to use Twitter freely, Obama responded: "Well, first of all, let me say that I have never used Twitter. My thumbs are too clumsy to type in things on the phone."

Salahis' Self-Marketing 2.0 (PHOTOS)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 28, 2009    3:37 PM ET

"Hey, you hear the news about the housewives of DC crashing the president's party?" read a quick note from one of my best friends, Manny Varela, a 29-year-old engineer from Miami. Like most people, Manny is not one to care about some party in D.C., never mind that it's the Obamas' first state dinner. But he is a fan of "housewives" -- short for the Bravo's hit and addicting "The Real Housewives" reality TV series, now filming its Washington, D.C. edition.

"How funny," Manny wrote. "What great marketing for the show."

A very, very good point.

This is, after all, all about marketing, whether Bravo likes it or not. Though folks at Bravo have told various news organizations that they have yet to finalize the cast for its D.C. series, it's this drive for self-marketing that seems to have landed socialites-turned-"gate-crashers" Tareq and Michaele Salahi inside the White House in the first place. Hey, who could resist a "real housewife" who gets face-time from a smiling President Obama? In our reality TV culture exacerbated by the rise of social networking sites -- in which 15 minutes of fame can be elongated by the number of photos and videos swirling around the Web -- who can blame the Salahis for their sheer, shameless self-promotion? Their shared Facebook profile have 743 photos and 14 videos, and you don't need to be Facebook friends with Tareq and Michaele to see them. Just click away.

Inevitably, people have created and joined groups mostly chastising and mocking the wedding crashers heard 'round Facebook.

Anatomy (and Meaning) of the "Did You Know?" Video Series (VIDEOS, PHOTOS)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 24, 2009   12:00 PM ET

Yes, technology is revolutionizing politics, from raising money through online donors to organizing and mobilizing supporters using Facebook and text messaging. Yes, technology is impacting businesses big and small, particularly how they pitch and sell their products in such a fragmented, almost ADD digital marketplace.

But most importantly, the onslaught of new technologies -- cell phones, video games, social networking sites, the Wikipediazation of information, the reach of YouTube and Skype, you name it -- have ushered a seismic shift in education: how our kids learn, how our teachers teach, how curriculum is shaped and presented, how individual students, powered by technology, process and experience what they're learning.

It's this shift, an education earthquake of sorts, that prompted Karl Fisch, formerly a math teacher and now the technology coordinator at Arapahoe High School, just outside Denver, to create the slideshow "Did You Know?" That was in August 2006. What happened next, within three years, illustrates the very nature of what I've called our evolving "Clickocracy": one nation under Google, with video and e-mail for all.

First, Fisch posted original slideshow on his own blog. It quickly fired up the education blogosphere of which Fisch, a long-time teacher, is one of the earliest pioneers. A few months later, he got an e-mail from Scott McLeod, then an instructor at the University of Minnesota and now an associate professor of educational administration at Iowa State University -- if you want to be a principal or superintendent, contact McLeod. McLeod loved the slideshow but also wanted to tweak it a bit, shave off about half a minute, jazz it up with photos and do a video, which he then posted on his own blog.

Then the mash-ups, the remixes, the parodies, the re-uploads on video sharing sites like and came pouring in. The design company XPLANE contacted Fisch and McLeod and wanted to create a 2.0 version of the video, complete with animation, for free.

Unplugging -- Turn It Off! (VIDEO)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 23, 2009    7:48 AM ET

We can't turn it off -- we just can't. Our relationship with our phones (BlackBerrys, iPhones, Sidekicks) have gotten so eerily co-dependent that, as the New York Times noted in a must-read story, we're solving "a problem caused by technology with more technology." Instead of simply turning the phone off, some of us go to a free site like ZoomSafer to disable our beloved cell phones. And, as if texting or talking on our phones aren't enough, some of us want to type in our cars, too -- hence the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk. Thankfully, the product's seller warns: "For safety reasons, never use this product while driving." No kidding.

Because here's the biggest challenge of our hyper-kinetic, always-connected, tech-powered daily lives: Unplugging. A few weeks ago, we asked some of the biggest names in the tech and online world how they slow down. Recently, for a video for, I spent an hour or so at Times Square in New York City -- the capital of TWW (texting while walking) -- asking people when they turn off their cell phones. "A text message is more important than my health," a 16-year-old told me. "Radiation, like, it's not gonna do that much."

Well, we've got a long way to go.

Palin Online -- Palin's Web Buzz Trumps Obama's

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 19, 2009    8:04 PM ET

Is there anyone quite like Sarah Palin online?

At the moment, no -- not Michael Jackson, not Manny Pacquiao, not even President Obama. According to Google Insights for Search, which tracks what the online masses are searching for within specific times and regions, the former Alaska governor-turned vice presidential nominee-turned media celebrity far surpasses Obama when it comes to Google searches. Online, interest in all things Palin has surged in the past few days. Of course, the more TV appearances she makes promoting her book "Going Rogue" -- first with Oprah Winfrey, then with FOX's Sean Hannity and a multi-part series with ABC News -- the bigger draw she becomes online, in blogs (right and left), on YouTube (1,320 Palin-oriented videos have been uploaded since last Thursday) and other social networking sites. Online popularity can be defined in various ways. Sheer ubiquity is one.

"Searches for Sarah Palin have surged to their highest level since the election -- even further than when she resigned as Governor of Alaska," Google spokesman Galen Panger told HuffPostTech. "While search interest now still pales in comparison with when she was announced as John McCain's pick for VP, at the moment she's all the rage--and right now people are searching for her more than President Obama."

Did Pacquiao Make Web History?

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 15, 2009    5:26 AM ET

In front of an ecstatic, sold-out crowd at MGM Grand Sunday night, Pacquiao won his seventh title in seven weight divisions -- a first in boxing history.

And within seconds, a once dirt-poor man from the Philippines who sold cigarettes on the road had the Web buzzing.

By 3 a.m. EST Sunday, 5 out of the hottest 10 terms on Google Trends were Pacquiao-related: "paquiao vs cotto results"; "floyd mayweather"; "manny pacquiao"; "manny pacquiao vs miguel cotto video"; and "cotto vs pacquiao free live stream."

Online Hit -- Manny "Philippines" Pacquiao

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 14, 2009    5:25 AM ET

Manny Pacquiao is the Philippines.

And on the social Web -- where the often overlooked Filipino diaspora gather on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube -- today is Manny Pacquiao Day, when the 5-foot-6-inch boxer faces Puerto Rico's Miguel Cotto for a welterweight title at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. Win or lose (and, for my money, he'll win), the 30-year-old Pacquiao has already secured his spot in boxing history. To his fans, he's "Pac-Man", "the fighting pride of the Philippines," "the best pound-for-pound professional boxer," "The Mexicutioner" -- referring to his wins over Mexican boxers Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Oscar De La Hoya.

No other boxer comes close, right now, to matching his popularity online.

Obama Online -- Using Technology, It's the Electorate That Has Changed, Too

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 4, 2009    8:48 AM ET


Change, of course, carries many definitions, as Barack Obama won the White House a year ago this week, expanding the American electorate by drawing new voters, raising millions from small-dollar donations and, for the first time in presidential politics, placing modern technology (the Internet, text messaging, social networking) smack in the middle of the campaign. Change, in this context, meant putting everyday people -- the voters -- at the heart of the operation. Change, in other words, meant us. We changed -- the way people participated in politics changed.

And that resulted, when we look back, in staggering numbers:

* Some 3 million individual donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to more than $500 million. The average donation was $80, and the average Obama donor gave more than once.

Obama Online -- What's the Future of Organizing for America (OFA)?

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   November 3, 2009   10:21 AM ET

"Technology, like the grassroots focus, would be at the core of our campaign from the start..."
-- David Plouffe, "The Audacity to Win"

Is it time for Plouffe, the architect behind Obama's winning campaign, to take Organizing for America out of the Democratic National Committee?

Organizing for America, aka OFA, was once Obama for America, the most technology-savvy political operation in American history. It's home to by far the biggest e-mail list in Washington -- some 13 million e-mail addresses of supporters who not just financially supported Obama's candidacy but also collectively clocked hundreds of hours in volunteer time to help elect him president: knocking on doors, making phone calls, spreading the word around within their own online social networks. In other words, supporters didn't just give money. They gave money and worked for Obama for free.

Michael Jackson Online -- A Singular Attraction

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   October 28, 2009    2:34 PM ET

Online, Michael Jackson is a singular attraction.

We saw this on June 25, a day that will forever live in online infamy, when the King of Pop's death literally stopped the Internet. Within a day, Jackson's main Wikipedia article was viewed more than 6 million times. Twitter and AOL Instant messaging went berserk. Text messages flooded phones. (I, for one, didn't learn about Jackson's death from TMZ or CNN; a cousin had texted me with "Michael Jackson is dead.")

Which is not at all surprising given Jackson's draw on social networking sites, and the kind of connected world we're living in. Events don't just happen. Events are shared. On Facebook, for example, the biggest Jackson page has 10.3 million fans. To put that figure into context, consider that the official Barack Obama page has 6.8 million fans and the official Sarah Palin page has more about 951,000. On YouTube, type "Michael Jackson" and about 950,000 videos pop up -- easily more videos than when you type some of biggest names in music: "U2" (131,000) "Beyonce" (275,000), "Taylor Swift" (249,000), "Lil' Wayne" (472,000), to name just a few. About 3,000 Jackson-oriented videos have been uploaded in the past 24 hours -- and, yes, some of them are videos of fans reviewing "This Is It," the new documentary featuring the last performing hours of The Gloved One, singing, dancing and rehearsing a planned concert series.

Obama Online -- Where Are the Young Supporters?

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   October 23, 2009    6:25 AM ET

They were ubiquitous, they were tech-savvy, they were vocal -- nearly a year after the election, where are the young Obama supporters?

Where are the voters under 30 who preferred Obama over McCain by a staggering 66-32 percent margin, the biggest of any age group? Where is the mainstream media -- the same MSM that declared 2008 as "The Year of the Youth Vote" -- in covering how young people are impacted by the health care debate, which has dominated the news for months? (Studies show that a quarter of Americans ages 25 to 34 don't have health insurance, while about a third of Americans ages 21 to 24 live without it -- more than any other age group. This is partly because young people think they're invincible -- "Me? Get sick? No way!" -- but it's also partly because they're either out of work or their employers don't offer insurance.) Where is the Team Obama that adeptly leveraged the enthusiasm of its digitally-plugged young troops, who scheduled rallies on Facebook, passed YouTube videos around their network and sent text messages reminding their friends to vote? Speaking last month at George Washington University, just a few blocks from the White House, Obama's campaign manager David Plouffe told the college crowd: "Your generation won the election ... Obama simply wouldn't have been the nominee without you."

Tobin Van Ostern, a recent George Washington graduate, e-mailed me Plouffe's comment last week.

The GOP Online (VIDEO)

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   October 14, 2009    6:57 AM ET

Of course technology is non-partisan, belonging to neither the Democratic Party nor the GOP.

*Watch video of Michael Steele's speech at the RNC's tech summit last February*

Your Inbox, Your Self

Jose Antonio Vargas   |   October 12, 2009    6:40 AM ET

You are how you communicate.

If you like having an instant focus group, a pulsating, by-the-second, rat-a-tat-tat burst of soundbites, wisecracks and tidbits, then Twitter is probably the best platform for you. (Text messaging, by extension, is a private one-on-one tweet. Or, in tweet-speak, a "DM," aka Direct Message.)

If you want a more closed-off, only-in-the-company-of-friends stream of information, then Facebook may be your best bet. (Not everyone on Facebook, for example, can see my photos.)

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