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How will the Twitterati deal with the ad men?

What does it take to build a community these days? It used to be churches, synagogues, other places of worship; shared hobbies; geography. Now, it's the province of busty hookers.

If the phrase doesn't ring a bell, you may wish to revisit the Rahim Jaffer scandal, although most of the details are not, to paraphrase the Web, relevant to our interests here. All you really need to know is that a news story two weeks ago reported that the businessman with connections to the Conservative party dined with an alleged conman and "three busty hookers."

The Twitterati lit on this phrase immediately. We knew, somehow, that this phrase deserved commemoration - by making it a trending topic, naturally - and that the commemoration would mean something about us as a group.

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<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=1e75cbe7f1/height=650/width=600" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="600px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=1e75cbe7f1" >#bustyhookers, #starbucks and how social media defines community</a></iframe>




A small, media-heavy contingent dedicated itself to the betterment of #bustyhookers.

I know there was nothing worthwhile or revolutionary about the pursuit, except maybe at some subsonic level that a sociology PhD might appreciate. And yet when, finally, after hours of peppering my every last tweet with the #bustyhookers tag, I saw it in the trending topics column, I felt a true sense of pride. "Like a proud parent," wrote one tweeter. But the accomplishment was not mine (or hers) alone; it took a village.

Normally the Internet rallies in times of tragedy, when the significance of communal effort pales next to the gravity of what we're pulling together for. This time, we did it for the sheer, absurd joy of it, just to prove that our little band of idiots could make a dent in things.

When Americans finally started tweeting "Why is #bustyhookers a trending topic in Canada?" I imagined slitting my eyes at my fellow tweeters and nodding conspiratorially. Quietly clinking the necks of our beers together.

It was confirmation, once again, that social media have redefined "community" slightly, while making it more readily accessible to many. #bustyhookers was an example of an in-joke gone rampant, but there are loads of other examples of the power of the online community, from the sublime - bicycle-recovery efforts or revolution-building (Iran, Cuba) - to the ridiculous (other trending topics).





With a pedigree like that, it's easy to believe that social media belong to We the People. Which is why it's so discomfiting to think of it as an advertising platform.

Obviously, Twitter's not a charity. It had to find some way to translate its rocketing popularity into cash. So, last Tuesday, it announced Promoted Tweets, which companies can pay for. Searching for Starbucks, for example, will cause a promotional tweet for the coffee shop to appear in your feed.

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Besides the obvious question of who does a Twitter search for Starbucks, or any other business, there is the issue of how these tweets will be received by people who have begun to think of Twitter as their own.

We can look unquestioningly upon the same content in, say, magazines and newspapers, but our relationship to print is different. It talks, we listen. If it wants to sell us a sofa, that's its prerogative. But Twitter's innate cliquishness, fuelled by dialogue, makes the incursion of advertising a bit like being in a heated debate with a friend about the merits of the movie Avatar when an employee of 20th Century Fox wedges into the conversation to say "I saw a great review of it in the paper this weekend!" Um, #fail.

In some ways, the format is merciful: The advertisers aren't pretending to be just folks, and, as a testament to the power of the users, Promoted Tweets that are not successful - don't get linked to, retweeted - will eventually drop out of circulation.

But in the end, Twitter is the only micro-blogging game in town. We need (okay, want) Twitter as much as it needs us. Our choices are to either suck up the advertising or quit the site. I can think of the perfect tool for organizing a boycott, but there's just one hitch....

Follow Lisan Jutras on Twitter @lisanjutras

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