The year in new media: from Facebook’s IPO to viral activism to Olympic gold

30 Dec 2012

In 2012 we’ve seen significant shifts in the social media landscape while also watching some of the year’s biggest events unfold on these networks. We take a look back on the year in new media, taking in Facebook’s many milestones, the viral sensations that took over our feeds, and the sporting contests that dominated the internet this summer.

What an exciting year it has been for new media. We saw Bebo almost bow out, and Myspace resurrected by Justin Timberlake. We saw Bad Piggies take over from Angry Birds and Chrome overtake Internet Explorer. In Ireland, we finally saw the arrival of Netflix and Spotify, and UPC rolled out on-demand TV to homes throughout the country. And we saw the mighty Apple fail spectacularly with the introduction of Apple Maps.

Social media giant Facebook had a huge year of milestones, from turning on timeline to buying up Instagram to reaching 1bn users. Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg even walked down the aisle.

Hitting the stock market brought with it some ups and downs, with some analysts calling it the worst IPO in a decade. Regardless, Facebook’s IPO made co-founder Dustin Moskovitz, not Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire (by a margin of just eight days).

Facebook IPO

The real star of the IPO show for us, though, was Irish Facebook engineer Colm Doyle, who helped devise the clever hack that saw Zuckerberg’s timeline automatically update the second he rang the NASDAQ bell.

The world’s biggest social network will undoubtedly continue to make the headlines in 2013, and a format change mistaken for a privacy bug showed us all just how much the social network has changed in its few years of existence.

Heroes and villains

Elsewhere in social media, Twitter kicked off a turf war with the rollout of its new API rules, which recently resulted in fractured relations between the microblogging service and Instagram – and it’s the users that have had to suffer.

Amidst all this, Twitter had its records shattered by US President Barack Obama and his re-election campaign, and also welcomed UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Pope Benedict XVI to the Twittersphere.

Barack Obama

This photo of Barack Obama and wife Michelle, taken following the confirmation of his re-election, not only became the most ‘liked’ photo in Facebook’s history, but is also the most retweeted tweet of 2012, attracting more than 810,000 retweets and more than 300,000 favourites

But it’s the stories that unfolded on social media that really grabbed our attention in 2012. This year, social networks have made heroes (and villains) of a well-dressed monkey, a football-loving cat, an empty chair, Samantha Brick, an ass-kicking baby, a wannabe tween pop star, an escaped lion, a nine-year-old who would like us all to dress with dignity, a botched fresco, and a South Korean rapper who knows how to dress classy and dance cheesy.

Social media in 2012 also enabled the resurrection of the Titanic and a no-holds-barred Q&A with a member of An Garda Síochána. It helped to report and document flooding at home (using the unmistakeably Irish hashtag, #whatthefliuch) and natural disasters abroad.

The Kony 2012 debate

Viral sensations powered into the mainstream this year and, in March, filmmaker Jason Russell’s viral campaign to arrest Ugandan guerrilla leader Joseph Kony before the end of the year took the internet by storm, sparking much online debate about both the campaign’s and Russell’s own credibility.

Russell’s 30-minute YouTube documentary Kony 2012 was viewed by 70m people in just four days (it now stands at more than 94m views) and users in their droves jumped on the #stopKony bandwagon. ‘Kony 2012’ was even ranked No 7 in Bing’s top most searched-for terms in 2012 and Joseph Kony appeared on Google’s list of top 10 trending people in 2012. But the question remains as to whether the viral campaign was awareness-spreading at its best or slacktivism at its worst.

Sporting achievements

One thing we learned in 2012 is the power of sport in new media, and two key events in the sporting calendar – the UEFA Euro 2012 tournament and the Olympic Games – took over social networks for the summer.

First up was Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. The Republic of Ireland squad had qualified for the first time since 1988, long before the days of social media, and the rocky road to Poznan was documented with enthusiasm on Twitter and other networks.

Image from Twitter

Discovered on Twitter via Andy McGeady

At the time, Ireland was ranked third in the world for Euro 2012-related searches online as we fervently sought information on the tournament and how to get there, as well as seeking flags and bunting to decorate our homes.

But all the tweets, searches, decorations, and even a rousing sing-song from a class of Thai schoolkids weren’t enough and Ireland was knocked out at the group stages. Ireland could have been worse off, though. Belgian football fans didn’t even have a team to cheer for in the tournament and so put their support up for auction on eBay, raising more than €3,000 for Unicef.

It was predicted that 30pc of Irish viewers would watch the Euros from smartphones, tablets and PCs and Aertv reported record-breaking viewing figures during the Ireland v Spain match, with more than 10,000 people tuning and one in three of these watching on a mobile device.

And though we were there only for a brief time, we certainly left our mark on the Polish people.


It wasn’t all fun and games on social media throughout the tournament, however, and the event brought out some users’ dark side. Twitter users filed police complaints against @Lapwnage, who tweeted racist remarks at England’s Ashley Cole and Ashley Young following the team’s quarter final defeat. The user was threatened with a public order offence for the hateful comments and has since deleted his account.

Olympic gold

‘Euro 2012’ turned out to be the most Googled-for term in Ireland throughout all of 2012, and second in line was Olympic gold medallist, ‘Katie Taylor’.

Image from Twitter

Taylor’s women’s lightweight semi-final bout with Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva saw network activity increase 800pc as fans rushed to watch the midday fight online, and Aertv deemed it the most-watched Irish sporting event ever broadcast on the service. Ahead of the bout, Twitter was abuzz with backlash for a newspaper article that mistakenly labelled Ireland’s golden girl as British.

Following the final, which saw Taylor become an Olympic gold medallist, tweets congratulating her flooded in from all sorts on Twitter, from Oscar De La Hoya to Samuel L Jackson.

Katie Taylor gif

Once again, though, the dark side of social media was revealed as malicious tweets to Team GB diver Tom Daley led to a trolling teenager’s arrest and triple jumper Voula Papachristo was expelled from the Games for a comment about African immigrants that she shared on the social network.

Overall though, the London 2012 Olympic Games were a collective online celebration. And, of course, such a massive and well-documented worldwide event couldn’t pass without spawning a few memes. Our favourites? Bronze goes to the Olympic divers on toilets, silver to the disgruntled Queen, while the gold goes home with Kurt Roberts’ shot put face.

London 2012 memes

London 2012 memes

London 2012 memes

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.