"Obama says Osama Dead," someone tweeted, and instantly there were hundreds re-tweeting the news. There was still nothing on local tv breaking news yet, and not a peep on the newspaper websites. Welcome to the world of tweeters.
Last month, social media in Nepal was abuzz with messages demanding the reinstatement of the finance secretary who resigned due to political pressure from Finance Minister Bharat Mohan Adhikari. The social media campaign embarrassed the finance minister, prompting him to call a press conference in his defence. Social networking has arrived in Nepal, with Facebook subscribers now exceeding 1 million and the number of those tweeting rising exponentially with the spread of smart phones.
The community of Twitter users in Nepal tweet anything from usual ramblings to profound political commentaries and hardly anything of national and global importance escape the lively discussions on twitter timelines.
Although the number of people who say they regularly use the Internet is still below 10 per cent, the large diaspora population and the spread of 3G phones is suddenly making the technology cheap and accessible to many.
Language used to be a barrier because of Roman Nepali typing, but use of Devnagari keyboards is spreading. Facebook continues to be the preferred social networking site of choice for many, but lately twitter has been gaining currency among Nepalis as well. Bhumika Ghimire, an avid twitter user and blogger, recently deleted facebook application from her mobile phone. I have come to rely a lot on twitter for social networking. This is where I have been getting updates on middle eastern uprisings, says Ghimire who has followed well known bloggers from the region for this purpose.
Aakarpost (@aakarpost), a regular tweeter says, "If I get confused about something, I post it on Twitter and then often someone from the community tweets back the solution." Nepali tweeters have also become an alternative and timely source of "breaking news" for peers living abroad. Last week's banda, for instance, was discussed all over Nepali tweetosphere with updates from people across the country.Says Gaurab Poudel (@gpoudel): " Because most media are profit- oriented and controlled by few people, I find the idea of real people sharing the news more trustworthy too."
Twitter has become a venue to initiate social work and jumpstart robust discussions. "Tweet for Cause Nepal" (@tfcNepal) recently raised funds among Twitter users to donate food, stationery and clothes to the orphanage Pabitra Samaj Sewa. Similarly, Tweetdebate an initiative by Twitter users in Nepal, hosts weekly discussions every Saturday, the topic for which is decided from among the participants themselves.The debate group has discussed issues like civil vigilance, online privacy and media piracy and posted solutions at the group's website.
"We are also planning to set-up an after debate support group, for specific topics, if required," Anand Nepal (@anandnepal) told us. "In the early days, I used to tweet about 'what I was doing', but these days I generally tweet about 'what I think'," Abish Adhikari (@abishadh), a doctor at BPKIHS, Dharan says.
While the new media is giving activism a new shape, the conflict between alternative and mainstream media is becoming only more apparent. Recently, there was a huge uproar in both media about a national daily that published unsolicited tweets. Twitter users argued passionately about the violation of private space and the dangers of being quoted out of context.
And this time around, it was bloggers and tweeters who advocated for values and ethics in journalism.