Patrick Strudwick: On Twitter, it's power to the people

No message can be pumped down a one-way street any more
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The Independent Online

A two-front war is under way on Twitter, and I know who will win: Twitter users. In one war Twitter has announced that it will censor tweets in particular countries if they are legally required to do so, and many people are terrified this could mean that freedoms will be removed, that uprisings will be restricted, that Tahrir Square will not be repeated. But one glance at the other war – in which blue-chip behemoths are advancing on the commercial front – should reassure us all. Tweeters will not be shut up.

In the past few days, a Twitter blueprint has formed to win the free speech fight. The template is versatile and inventive. It wins using ridicule, and the latest objects of scorn are McDonald's and Snickers. These totems of nutrition have been implementing social media strategies that, in the history of corporate self-harming incidents, could exceed Gerald Ratner's "total crap" description of his company's jewellery.

McDonald's hashtag #McDStories was meant to "tell people where our food comes from". Instead, hordes of revolted customers hijacked it with stories of their un-happy meals. "I found yummy cartilage in my McNuggets," tweeted one sarcastic customer. The golden arches were so comprehensively smeared that I suspect it was the work of a double agent from Burger King.

Meanwhile Snickers, with the aim of conveying the restorative powers of sugar, milk powder lactose and partially hydrogenated soybean oil, thought it would be hilarious to take over Katie Price's Twitter account and tweet about the economy. Brilliant! It'll show that Snickers makes you clever!

Oh how we didn't laugh. The model returned to tweeting about nail varnish and the colour pink. This was unfortunate. It suggested that eating Snickers in fact plunges your IQ to a depth at which you never tire of repeating her mantra: "Never underestimate the Pricey!"

Word to the unwise marketing departments: know your Twitter history. In 2010, when Vodafone urged tweeters to say what things #makemesmile, UK Uncut deluged the hashtag with accusations about the company's alleged £6bn tax avoidance. These brands are unwelcome on Twitter because it is a playground for counter culture, not over-the-counter culture. Corporate Goliaths are therefore no more adept at slipping unnoticed into this party than Jeremy Clarkson would be scrambling on to a transgender float at gay pride.

Blue chips and autocracies fail to notice that no message can be pumped down a one-way street any more. Millions shout back. If protesters cannot use Twitter they will start another site, or use a code that would stump even Alan Turing. Those not listening will be deposed or bankrupted. For there's only one thing a Twitter mob devours more lustfully than the twitching flesh of a corporate giant, it is the rotting cadaver of a despot.