Let's make it official: Antoine Dodson is this year's face – and auto-tuned voice – of social media.
Dodson – whose emotional recounting of stopping a sex attack on his sister became an unlikely Internet music video sensation – stands at the blurry intersection of news and entertainment that characterized the Web this year.
The ongoing shift in the popular culture can be quantified, albeit imperfectly, by staggering statistics released separately Monday by YouTube and Twitter: some 25 billion tweets were sent in 2010, while YouTube logged more than 700 billion hits, both figures representing huge jumps over last year.
The sites' most popular topics of the year offer a fascinating, if not always flattering, picture of social media users at a time when folks not only have a sea of media choices, but can easily and instantly contribute to the ocean of content.
Twitter's Top 10 trending topics included major news stories – the Gulf oil spill placed No. 1, while the Haitian earthquake, arguably the year's most important story, came in fourth. The list also contains a mix of sports (the World Cup, the annoying vuvuzela horns and Paul the psychic octopus), tech (the iPad and Google Android) and popular entertainment (“Inception,” “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and Justin Bieber).
The teen singer, who placed eighth on the Twitter list, the highest of any individual, also dominated YouTube, with the video for his undeniably catchy "Baby" amassing more than 400 million views.
But perhaps the most telling YouTube list was the lineup of surprise, out-of-nowhere viral hits, like the guy weeping at the beauty of a double rainbow and the fun Old Spice commercial.
The biggest new star was Dodson, whose trauma became a weird hybrid of news and music video after his interview with a TV reporter was transformed by an outfit called Auto-Tune the News into a hit called "Bed Intruder Song!!!" His warning to "hide your kids, hide your wife," turned into the musical catch phrase of the summer as videos of Dodson garnered more than 61 million views on YouTube.
The statistics might seem as frivolous as the annual end-of-year ranking of top TV shows and movies ("The Social Network," which is about the story of Facebook, is among the flicks turning up on many critics' lists). But the numbers speak volumes that are worth a listen.
YouTube appears to be solidifying as a source of popular entertainment and novelty – even if Haiti was the site's No. 1 search in January after the devastating earthquake.
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Meanwhile, Twitter, mocked by many for some users' tendency to post inane status updates about the mundane, seems to be transforming into a major means to share and comment on a fairly wide range of events the day.
Exactly where social media is headed in 2011 is anybody's guess – we can't even rely on a prediction from Paul the Octopus, whose death in October was a major topic of discussion on Twitter.
But this much seems certain: more and more, we are what we tweet – and watch on YouTube.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.