BEIRUT: Two Lebanese tweeters have received an impressive boost to their reputation, after making the cut on TIME Magazine’s annual list of the 140 Best Twitter feeds.
Agence France Presse’s Middle East and North Africa Photo Manager Patrick Baz (@Patrick_Baz) and prominent architect and satirist Karl Sharro (@KarlRemarks) joined such prestigious accounts as Pope Francis, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and political powerhouse duo Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Baz, a French Lebanese man born in Beirut, was included in the Art and Photography section for his comprehensive coverage of news and photojournalism in the Middle East.
“I read it twice, three times, to make sure,” Baz said his first reaction on seeing his name listed. The photojournalist, a veteran of many Middle Eastern conflicts, said he originally started tweeting to follow regional reporting before he realized he could fill a gap by being a proponent for photojournalism in the region.
Sharro was listed in the Global Affairs category for his “bold musings” on Middle Eastern affairs.
While Baz uses his account for professional purposes, Sharro maintains a successful day job as the director of an international architecture firm in London, making his Twitter account more focused on his other passions.
“When I first started using Twitter, it was mostly to talk about architecture and politics,” Sharro said. “However, with the start of the Arab uprisings there was such a wave of excitement about them that I started to focus more on politics and the nature of the medium with the short format pushed me toward more humorous observations.”
Baz’s and Sharro’s accounts have gathered a strong following, with Baz now boasting just over 9,500 followers while Sharro’s has more than 24,000. While both men have taken note that an increase in publicity will expose them to a wider audience, their reactions to that increased notoriety varied.
Baz said that his behavior on Twitter changed about six months ago, when AFP sent his name, among others, to be verified. Verified accounts have a large white check mark in a blue circle next to the tweeters name and handle.
“I turned more professional,” he said, adding that people come to his feed for news reporting or photojournalism from the region and not “Miley Cyrus, what’s happening in China, or football.” Ultimately, Baz said that, as a representative of his employer, he had to maintain a standard of professionalism in his social media presence.
Sharro, on the other hand, has pushed on with the satirical side of his online persona.
“I think about that from time to time, particularly as more influential people follow me, and I wonder if I have to become more serious, but ultimately my inclination for humorous tweets wins,” Sharro said.
“It's really the way I feel I can best express my thoughts on Twitter. ... This is not to say I never tweet about serious things, which I do, but again it's the nature of the medium that lends itself to more humorous or satirical comments. Having said that, I like to think that my observation, whether serious or humorous, express my general politics and way of thinking, so it's not just joke-writing in the abstract.”
With Twitter, users can often share their voice with thousands upon thousands of Internet users. Features like “retweeting,” where a user shares what someone else wrote with their own followers, means that a simple line of 140 characters can leave an impression on millions should it resonate enough.
For Baz, his recognition as an important figure on the media platform shows photojournalism in Lebanon and the Middle East “has a voice out there” in its defense.
Sharro said his following was more “a niche audience.”
“Obviously, having a relatively large following gives anybody a sense of satisfaction, but I never took Twitter seriously in the sense that I never thought of it as a tool to change the world. I consider it a tool to interact with a large number of people, which it's particularly suited to because of its open nature. This is why I think I might across as flippant on Twitter to some, but luckily others appreciate some of my musings.”