The year that was: Memorable Twitter trends of 2011

The highs and lows of the past year, as experienced by the Twitterverse.

Worldwide Events & News

Mubarak’s resignation (#cairo #mubarak #egypt #jan25)

After eighteen days of protests in Egypt and pleas on various social media platforms, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February this year generating buzz worldwide, particularly with regard to the role of social media in the protests Following the detention of Egyptian online activist Wael Ghonim #Jan25 also became a rallying point for those supporting his ideals.

Libyan uprisings and Gaddafi’s death (#gadafi #gaddafi #muammergaddafi #qaddafi #libya)

Libya followed swiftly in Egypt’s footsteps with violent uprisings that started in Bhengazi on 15 February, and led to drawn out nation-wide armed conflict fought between forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and those seeking to oust his government. Gaddafi was eventually captured and killed on 20 October, and a photo showing the dictator’s lifeless body with what appeared to be a bullet wound to the head, and footage of his alleged execution went viral on Twitter and other social media. Over the next days images of Gaddafi’s body on display in a freezer in Misrat were circulated online and flooded Twitter feeds worldwide.

Death of Osama bin Laden (#osamadead, #osamabinladen, #osama)

According to Mashable, the raid on Osama bin Laden and his subsequent death “was one of the most tweeted events in history — and generated the highest sustained rate of tweets ever,” a record-breaking 12.4 million tweets per hour. Twitter originally reported that more than 4,000 tweets were sent per second during Obama’s statement announcing bin Laden’s death – a figure the company later said was about 25% higher.

Japanese earthquake and Fukushima nuclear disaster (#prayforjapan, #japan #tsunami)

The 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit northern Japan in March triggered a tsunami, which sent a massive body of water filled with debris inland. The quake garnered the attention of the world which rallied to help survivors, with four topics trending worldwide simultaneously on Twitter, including #prayforjapan and #tsunami, as well as #Fukushima after the Japanese nuclear power plant was seriously destabilised in the wake of the destruction.

Death of Steve Jobs (#RIPSteveJobs)

The charismatic former Apple CEO passed away after suffering a long illness on 5 October. The much loved American businessman and inventor was widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer and mobile device revolution. His death turned into the biggest event in internet history.

Death of Amy Winehouse (#amywinehouse)

The 27-year-old British singer tragically died at as an “unintended consequence” of accidental alcohol poisoning in July, after a long and very public battle with alcohol and drugs. Fans worldwide posted tributes on Twitter after the news broke that she had been found dead in her London home.

London riots (#londonriots #riotscleanup)

Several London boroughs and districts of cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson between 6 and 10 August 2011. Twitter was widely blamed at the time for facilitating communication between organisers of the riots, and being a catalyst for the violence (though later BlackBerry’s BBM instant messaging platform was named and shamed as the culprit).

Occupy Wall Street (#occupy #occupywallstreet)

In the words of Adbusters, the organisers behind the OWS protests, “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET is a leaderless people powered movement for democracy that began in America on September 17 with an encampment in the financial district of New York City.” Protesters have leveraged both positive and negative tweets about the movement heavily, and the protests in New York City have sparked similar protests and movements around the world.

Entertainment & Music

Justin Bieber (#bieber #justinbieber #beliebers)

Number one again. Yawn…

Lady Gaga (#queengaga #ladygaga #bornthisway #judas)

The pop music queen ruled the charts and the Twitterverse once again in 2011, with her weird and wonderful personality and hit tracks. The characteristically controversial “Born This Way” and “Judas” tracks both generated notable twitter traction among Little Monsters and critics alike.

Rebecca Black and Friday (#rebeccablack #Friday)

The 13-year-old Friday singer was lambasted worldwide for releasing the “worst song ever”, generating parodies galore online, and countless jokes, jibes and chatter on Twitter. Black has the last laugh however, it is estimated that the singer is making about US$27 000 per week off the song. In fact I bet you’re humming the chorus right now aren’t you?

Charlie Sheen’s meltdown (#tigerblood #WINNING)

The troubled actor had a very public meltdown which generated the #tigerblood and #winning trends leveraged by Sheen for publicity afterwards, that subsequently became long-standing internet memes as well. Sheen was later fired and replaced by Ashton Kutcher on the hit TV series Two And A Half Men, which also trended worldwide when the news broke and set a ratings record for the show.

The Royal Wedding (#royalwedding)

The most high profile British Royal Wedding since Lady Di and Prince Charles’ nuptials in the 80’s generated an audience of 13.5 million, who tuned in to watch the event on TV and many more online. Memorable topics of discussion and debate in the Twitterverse included the designer of the dress (a classic number from the late Alexander McQueen’s fashion house), those ridiculous fascinators and Pippa Middleton’s (much appreciated) behind.



South Africans proved the power of their global Twitter reach in October, through Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, who inadvertently inspired a humourous Twitter trending topic after she asked members of the public to tweet her their questions. The hashtag #askhelenzille triggered an outpouring of tongue-in-cheek inquisitivness and began trending after Twitter user and popular South African “musical comedian” @Deepfriedman who encouraged users to treat @HelenZille as an advice column.

The Rapture(s) — 21 May/21 October (#rapturebomb)

The 89-year-old leader of a Christian group known as Family Radio assured the world that the rapture would take place on the 21st of May 2011. The event was to be the beginning of the worst disasters known to man before the end of the world on October 21st, 2011. Either heaven bears an uncanny resemblance to earth, or it didn’t happen. Or did it? Twitter users took it upon themselves to show proof of the rapture. Under the hashtag, “rapturebomb” users posted photos of people who supposedly ascended into heaven.

Nelson Mandela death hoax

The year got off to a somewhat disturbing start for former South African President Nelson Mandela, when users on social network Twitter inadvertently spread a rumour that he had died. Twitter users and media representatives contributed to its spread by asking in tweets whether the rumour of his death was correct and thus generating general mass confusion. The trend was traced back to a spate of tweets from South Africa that reported receiving a BBM message that Mandela had died, sparking the trending phase “RIP Nelson Mandela”. Madiba was thankfully well and resting on holiday at the time.

Catherine Murray


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