Twitter and the real world are not the same thing

By William Hall
February 12, 2019

The question, “What are you doing?” propelled Twitter from a small Silicon Valley startup to one of the most influential social media companies in the world – at least for the one in twelve Americans on Twitter.

Lauded over by the news media as a convenient prop to introduce what on its face would seem like an impartial cross section of America, all metrics indicate that Twitter has been struggling to maintain its foothold in an increasingly volatile digital climate.

So why do we care so much about Twitter? The blue checkmarks giving us our news do. While only roughly eight percent of Americans use Twitter, it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to suggest that 100 percent of those in the news media do.

If you were to look at recent data, Twitter’s market share has dwindled to a mere 24 percent of adults. Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, meanwhile, are continuing to expand their presence beyond that of the microblogging service. Twitter explains their decline in market share as the byproduct of a changing landscape, however it is worth noting that Twitter has changed a considerable amount itself.

The platform was once hailed as a revolutionary device that would topple authoritarians and usher in an era of global free speech. Now, it has turned into a carefully curated echo chamber where the most minor of utterances can translate into the complete destruction of someone’s personal life, if not become national news.

In the fall of 2013, data showed Twitter was the most popular social media platform for teenagers in the United States. For those who used and later disregarded the service five years ago, not much thought could be attributed to their past tweets.

However, if they were to pursue a sport professionally or a life in outward facing public service then there is a very real possibility that something they posted erroneously could become national news.

Those entering into the social media market for the first time know this well and are less likely to expose themselves to outward risk as platforms less prone to gaffe, such as Snapchat and Instagram, gain foothold. In short Twitter is no longer the platform of the Arab Spring, it is the Twitter of Kyler Murray and lest we forget, Covington Catholic.

When an entire industry in part relies on a service which represents a waning eight percent of the population as a demonstration of widespread American sentiment and in turn treating every action as a premeditated statement, the message becomes disconnected from common thought and is perhaps why the media has such difficulty connecting with the values of middle America.

Twitter from all indications is not dead, in fact it is far from it. Yet we have so commonly accepted Twitter being presented as a cross section of our nation’s public understanding that we have become, in a word, hypnotized by statements which come to us in 280 characters or less. The prerogative of concise communication is that it may deliver maximum impact. On Twitter this manifests itself in wit overpowering fact and outrage before process.

The advice I would give to those spending too much time on Twitter is to take a moment and experience the world, it’s far kinder than it seems.


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