Four miles away from the Carnival craziness, in a pizza place on Bienville Street in Mid-City, a group of people gathers for a podcast recording.
At one table, there’s a mother of two (soon to be three) along with an attorney and a Pelicans season ticket holder.
Another table has a news reporter as well as a local rock band and a black dude who ventured into the city from Memphis for the first weekend of Carnival parades.
Before this podcast recording, many of these people had never met in person.
When it became apparent I wasn’t going to finish 2015 in Memphis, I took a leap of faith and switched out a round-trip train ticket from Memphis to New Orleans after being accepted to present at Rising Tide, a new media conference that was held on the campus of Xavier University.
While some people questioned the move, it made a lot of sense due in part to the wonders of the New Orleans Twitter community.
Because of New Orleans Twitter, I’ve been saved from being homeless as well as built a large friend base, something that probably would have never happened in Memphis.
To honor the city’s 300th birthday, I talked with some of the major characters of New Orleans Twitter about Twitter in the Big Easy.
Mandy from Hollygrove
For Hollygrove resident Amanda Soprano, joining Twitter was not about entertainment, but an emergency.
“I joined Twitter in October of 2008,” she recently said, “This was a month after Hurricane Gustav. We evacuated for Gustav and it brought back memories of what happened during Katrina.”
According to Soprano, during the Katrina evacuation, the only forms of communication was email, walkie-talkies, and old-school Nextel phones.
“After Katrina passed, the phone lines were still down. Email wasn’t an option. We did get a walkie-talkie relay to my mother-in-law who had to stay behind as a first responder in Mandeville. We didn’t know the extent of the destruction in New Orleans until we were well out of the destruction zone, and still not even much then.”
As has been the case with recent natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey and the flooding in Baton Rouge, Twitter has played a huge role in saving thousands of lives. When I asked Soprano about how things would have been different during Katrina had Twitter been around that time, she had this to say.
“If Twitter had been around during Katrina, there probably wouldn’t have been people waiting around for days for help because they would have tweeted from the jump what was happening. There wouldn’t even have been a ‘Heckuva job, Brownie’ moment. I think we would’ve had a community of people that would have gotten people who would be normally stuck out to safety.”
James From Mid-City
“I don’t remember; it’s been a long time,” Mid-City resident James Karst said of his introduction into the Twitterverse.
A New Orleans resident since 2000, Karst is the senior editor at the Times-Picayune, where he also writes a weekly history column. When asked about how Twitter has played a role in his job with the Times-Picayune, Karst had this to say.
“At some point, my employer encouraged us to establish social media accounts,” he said, “However I never intended my social media accounts to exclusively promote my work or my colleagues’. It drives me crazy when other journalists exclusively promote their work as well as others on social media. I think it’s a poor use of social media and people see through it.”
Zhulie, Zhulie, Zhulie
Outside of the New Orleans area, Julie is pronounced the same way as Julie Andrews.
For Julie Couret, it’s Zhulie.
“I joined Twitter in 2009,” she said, “I mainly followed national accounts and rarely interacted.”
Couret, who is the chief executive coach for 7602 Business Performance, said the thing that makes NOLA Twitter unique is that it’s an actual community.
“It’s where people come to share,” she said, Whether it’s where to get the best po-boy or vent, it’s New Orleans with the friendlessness sans familiarity. We welcome the ones who are new, we miss them when they slip away.”
“I’ve been online since the late 90’s”, said Brett Crawford, also known as FQMule on Twitter, “However, I didn’t join Twitter until 2010.”
Crawford, who is a licensed tour guide as well as a mule rider, said that NOLA Twitter, as opposed to other local Twitter communities, is more like a fandom or identity Twitter.
“It’s very protective of the city and its reputation. It’s family.”
The Traveling Foodie
“I learned about Twitter a long time ago,” said Kristine Froeba, a reporter for the Uptown Messenger, “I used it originally to view a link to something in the news.”
Froeba, who mainly uses her Twitter to discuss travel & food, said that NOLA Twitter is a community that has a shared history of culture and love for each other.
“We live, laugh, love, and have a great time, telling our own jokes in our own little sphere from our unique perspective.”
Similar to Soprano, Tim Ruppert’s foray into Twitter was hurricane-related.
“I joined Twitter on August 30, 2008,” he said, “I realized that texting was going to cost a fortune so Twitter was the next best thing. It was more like texting, but I could do it for free.”
Ruppert, who is a Rising Tide alum like this writer, said that NOLA Twitter has a lot of good, but like most groups, there’s always one bad apple.
“I’ve been cursed at, called a racist, and threatened,” he said, “However that does come with the territory of being on social media.”
Apart from that, Ruppert has valued the numerous relationships he’s cultivated through NOLA Twitter.
“It’s like a private festival when someone on Twitter says, ‘Hey let’s grab a beer’. It’s pretty damn cool I’d say.”