Since it’s advent in 2006, Twitter has successfully managed to capture the zeitgeist of the 21st century. Twitter has made its mark on everything from pop culture, to political campaigns to even the law. However, everything must come to an end at some point, just look at Myspace, Bebo and dare I say, Facebook. Despite being the dominant force within social media, Facebook is haemorrhaging users by the year, last year it lost 9% of its users mostly due to lack of interest.
These days, it feels as if the functionality of twitter is starting to become redundant. After only nine years, has twitter reached its tipping point?
Probably one of the most prominent cases for Twitter was the CTB v News Group Newspapers court case in 2011. A super injunction was granted against News Group Newspapers and the ever classy, Imogen Thomson, preventing the naming of the footballer CTB in the media.
Despite this legal roadblock, there was a loophole, Twitter. Details of the gagging order were leaked on twitter and soon it was revealed that CTB was Ryan Giggs making him that week’s top trending topic. At the time, Twitter had no legal boundaries on the right of privacy and therefore Ryan Giggs was fair game. This event sparked the debate surrounding the legal standing points of the internet and how to enforce privacy laws in a growing age of social media. The reaction of twitter’s role in the scandal left many MP’s standing in favour of freedom of speech. When the national newspapers were legally bound from reporting public consensus, twitter became the voice of the people.
Another argument which could be made in favour of Twitter is the Arab Uprising in Egypt, in which its function helped to communicate the activists movements. Twitter was a way for activists to share their opinions and grievances against Mubarak’s regime without fear of censorship. The speed at which the uprising unfolded could be contributed to the instantaneous nature of social media. Twitter is not restricted by the same rules and procedures as national news media. Twitter helped shape the narrative of the Egyptian uprising, however Twitter did not start the movements, it was merely used as a tool for communication. History has taught us that when social injustice and poverty prevail uprisings and revolutions occur, even in times before Twitter and the internet. Therefore it is important to stress that while Twitter helped facilitate the Arab Springs it was not its cause. Masses have, and will, always find ways to communicate with each other. It is the intention behind the revolution, not how they do it, which will be remembered.
A noted pro for Twitter is its ability to connect users from all walks of life by simply following their profile. From celebrities, to corporations, to politicians, Twitter provides a direct line to those that were once unreachable for us mere mortals. The connectivity of users inevitably means that the flow of information between users creates an instant news service where, like the naming of Ryan Giggs, tweets can become the story or a trending topic. The death of Osama Bin Laden is a prime example of when the mainstream media struggled to keep up with Twitter. The raid on Osama Bin Laden was unknowingly revealed on Twitter by a Pakistani citizen who lived in Abbottabad where the raid occurred. In the early hours of May 2nd 2001 Sohaib Athar wrote;
“@ReallyVirtual: Helicopter Hovering above Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event)”
“@ReallyVirtual: A huge window shaking bang here in Abbottabad Cantt. I hope it’s not the start of something nasty :-S”
Athar was unknowingly live reporting giving a firsthand account of the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. His tweets and the impromptu press conference at the White House fuelled online speculation of the death before any confirmation had been given. An hour and a half later, former Chief of Staff to Donald Rumsfeld, Keith Urbahn (not the country singer) tweeted;
“@keithurbahn: So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Soon enough the speculation whipped up a trending frenzy dominating Twitter’s timeline which then prompted the mainstream media to start reporting the speculation. Two and a half hours after Athar’s initial tweet, President Obama confirmed Bin Laden’s death at the White House. In this event citizen journalism and Twitter replaced the mainstream media as the go to source for breaking news cementing its place within modern society.
Nowadays it seems as if Twitter has moved past the point of social change into social shaming. The universal appeals of Twitter; freedom of information, social change and it’s immediacy can also be used as ammunition for its demise. Chris Graham, Rangers FC board member, came under scrutiny for tweeting a cartoon picture of the Prophet Mohammed engaged in a sex act on the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack. Yes, the picture was undoubtedly made in bad taste, but a picture nonetheless. Ironically, a tool used for freedom of speech starts to selectively censor and attack users that do not fall into line with the majority’s point of view. In the end, Chris Graham resigned from the board after the tweet’s fallout. The tweet wasn’t unearthed until a couple of months after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, meaning there was a deliberate intent to find something defaming. Every tweet, every status, every user makes is stored and documented waiting to creep up upon us unexpectedly. What you may have thought was humorous at the time could be misconstrued as offensive in the future. The funny thing about Twitter, as communication device, it can’t seem to translate humour and irony well.
Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, documents other users who have fallen victim to Twitter. In it he argues that there is a tendency for users to take on a pack mentality to publicly shame individuals who make socially inadequate faux pas. Last week, in a weird twist of fate, Ronson himself fell victim to a shaming after a user tweeted a line that was in a galley of his book. The badly phrased line was clearly not meant to intentionally offend people but Ronson found himself being hounded and forced to defend something that wasn’t even in the final copy of his book. Twitter seems to be turning into a malicious online focus group.
Finally, with the help of Hillary Clinton, Twitter has come full circle. Hilary Clinton’s campaign was leaked to the mainstream press a day before her candidacy announcement which was ironically intended to be announced on Twitter. The communication device once used for breaking news has now completed it’s revolutionary journey by coming full circle.
Nowadays it is clear to see that Twitter’s power lies within its ability to connect, however it is now reasonable to say it’s societal impact is redundant. Not to worry, the brief life expectancy of social networking services means that something new is always around the corner. At this rate I wouldn’t be surprised if the result of the General Election was announced on Snapchat.