Welcome Aboard the Twittersphere

Twitter Logo against Keyboard (2016)– All rights reserved.

Twitter is a social media platform designed for microblogging, allowing users to share ‘tweets’, ‘hashtags’ and create online communities. Given the unique features that enable microblogging, the Twitter platform plays a crucial role for contemporary internet users and changes the way we enact social and cultural change. The transformative effect of Twitter on broader sociocultural contexts is afforded by the platforms features. Such features unique to Twitter include ‘hashtags’, character limiting on posts and direct messaging. Twitter has effectively acted as a liberating tool for social, political, economic and innovative expression (Kelty, 2014, p. 154). Through ease of sharing, Twitter hashtags have proven effective as a catalyst to social change movements such as the 2016 #MeToo campaign. Whilst able to enact positive social change, Twitter has also paved a space for the circulation of hate speech, racism and fake news propaganda. With the platform’s limit of 280 characters per post, users produce “at best eloquently terse responses and at worst heavily truncated speech” (Murthy, 2011).

The Evolution of Twitter

Twitter was launched by founders Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams, Noah Glass and Biz Stone on the 21st of March, 2006. Part of the microblogging sphere, Twitter is interdependent from earlier blogging sites such as Tumblr and Reddit. All three sites allow users to share text, images and links in pursuit of social networking. Over the past decade, the Twitter user count has increased from 30 million in 2010 to 353 million in 2020 (Hootsuite, 2020). This increase is ultimately a result of the historical trends that have brought users into the era of microblogging.

Unique to other social media platforms, Twitter encourages brevity in posting, contributing to the attention economy. Not only does Twitter increase our access to information but technologically affords the ability to rapidly consume it. This feature of situates Twitter historically into “broader communication systems, practices, and patterns” (Humphreys et. al., 2013) such as writing and journaling. Whilst Twitter is unique to other social media platforms, it also acts interpedently with social media platforms Facebook and Instagram. Whilst most consumption of tweets occurs via the Twitter site, the concise character count allows for ease of copying and pasting onto new communication channels (Marwick & Boyd, 2010).

Research into the history of the Twitter ecology demonstrate that original users of the site shared reflective and accounting ‘tweets’ (Humphreys et. al., 2013). This rather small scope of content has now transformed Twitter into a platform that has the potential to incite global activism. Twitter harnesses the potential to facilitate visibility of opinions and stories that are not covered within mainstream media.

Twitter as a Product of the Attention Economy

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” (Simon, 1971, p. 40)

Twitter continues to drive information to and from its users, creating a cyclical platform that operates for the attention economy. The attention economy refers to products of the internet, such as Twitter that increase our access to information whilst our capacity to consume this information remains the same. Thus internet entities such as Twitter which utilise hashtags to sort information enable in assisting the attention economy.

Amassing 353 million users, Twitter has become a globally trustworthy source of information. The Twitter platform elevates the everyday social media user to the status of citizen journalist, resulting in the viral spread of fake news.

Money-Making through Microblogging – The Economic Potential of Twitter

Twitter’s 2020 revenue of $936 billion is a testament to the ability for social and political changes to increase user activity (Hootsuite, 2020). Majority of Twitter’s revenue can be accounted to advertising. Users are now able to ‘promote’ tweets in order to boost visibility to their account. As well as the monetary promotion of paying users, Twitter is able to promote specific hashtags.

“A lot of advertisers on Twitter launch something new and are there to generate a conversation, create a new conversation around their product or their service. You can’t do that on Facebook or Instagram.” (Dorsey, 2018)

Here Dorsey recognises Twitter’s unique features that enable for viral sharing and communication. Dorsey maintains that the Twitter business model still centres around user experience, attracting 1% of users that interact with advertisements (Technomy, 2012).

Attracting revenue from the attention economy, Dorsey expounds on Twitter’s business model in the video below:

#Politics and #HateSpeech

Despite its economic success, Twitter has faced backlash in recent years due to the regulation (or lack thereof) political propaganda and hate speech. In turn, this has led to a regulatory battle over the infrastructure of Twitter that enables such behaviours. The infrastructure of the Twitter platform affords itself to a depersonalisation of interactions, or in this case tweets (Ott & Dickinson, 2019).

On a national scale, Indigenous Australian football player Adam Goodes was ridiculed on Twitter during 2015. Following an Indigenous war dance during a football match, the racism on the field met Goodes online via racist and hateful tweets. Coined by Fernández as ‘platformed racism’, this new form of online racism stems from the culture of social media platforms (Fernández, 2017). Demonstrating the interdependency of Twitter and YouTube, Twitter users were able to perform platformed racism through the embedding of hateful YouTube videos targeting Goodes. As result of this incident, Twitter’s ability to regulate hate speech was scrutinised.

Depicting Twitter’s ability to enact political discourse on a global scale, former US president Donald Trump is notorious for utilising Twitter to project blatantly provocative opinions. Given Trump’s notoriety as a political figure, his Twitter reach was able to capture the attention economy of Twitter users and create a toxic echo chamber of misinformation. The frequent degrading tweets established an online rhetoric that contributed to the encouragement of hate speech generated by other users (Ott & Dickinson, 2019).  Whilst Dorsey believes there is no perfect solution for tackling hate speech and fake news, the Twitter Safety account is a step in the right direction (Dorsey, 2018).

Twitter was proactive in its response to the spread of misinformation, generating tweets to combat widespread misinformation from users such as Trump (see fig. 1).

Figure 1: Screenshot from Twitter: Twitter Safety account fact-checking tweets from user @realDonaldTrump. – Ellora Srivastava

Since its genesis, the Twitter Safety account has proven effective in keeping users up to date with factual information on the COVID-19 global pandemic (see fig. 2).

Figure 2: Screenshot from Twitter: Twitter Safety account establishing the intention and purpose of the account. – Ellora Srivastava

Twitter’s Business Model:

The unique features of Twitter such as micro-blogging and hashtags enable for interchangeable communication roles, enhancing interactivity for advertisers (Mamic, 2013). Twitter has tailored the business model to benefit Making all main stakeholders involved. Illustrated in the following diagram (see Fig. 4), the main actors that make up the ecology of Twitter include:

Figure 4: Twitter Social Ecology Map – Ellora Srivastava
  • Users: Users are the key actor within Twitter’s ecology as they drive economic growth for shareholders whilst interacting with advertisements and thus create revenue.
  • Advertisers: Twitter’s top advertisers with the leading number of impressions during 2020 are (Guttman, 2020):
    • Nestle: 2571 million impressions
    • Verizon: 1262 million impressions
    • Disney: 1257 million impressions
    • The Kraft Heinz Company: 968 million impressions
    • Unilever: 860 million impressions
  • Shareholders: The following are Twitter’s top five shareholders, based on the number of shares (Reiff, 2020).
    • The Vanguard Group, Inc.: 79 million shares
    • Morgan Stanley: 46 million shares
    • BlackRock Fund Advisors Inc: 37.2 million shares
    • SSgA Funds Management, Inc.: 35.7 million shares
    • ClearBridge Investments LLC: 24 million shares
  • Competitors: Twitter’s main competitors are social media sites that afford the ease of sharing microblogs and such as Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr.
  • Regulatory Bodies: The ever-changing fabric of the internet causes issues when it comes to regulating and enforcing up-to-date policies. One of the major challenges faced by Twitter with regard to regulation is the right to freedom of speech. In America, freedom of speech laws prevent government censoring or punishing hate speech (Caplan, 2017). Twitter’s rationale on the hateful content policy is stated on Twitter’s Help Centre site (see Fig. 3)
Figure 3: Screenshot from Twitter’s Help Centre site detailing their Hateful Content Policy – Ellora Srivastava

The Markings of Microblogging in Everyday Life: #MeToo

Empowering each user with a globally visible platform, Twitter has transformed the way in which we communicate online. Operating as a network for change, Twitter has been a key instigator in campaigns such as the #MeToo movement. Revolutionising the way in which movements are facilitated, Twitter creates a more cost effective, less time consuming and easily shareable solution. Removing the barriers inherent to ‘real-life’ social activism, Twitter has innovated digital feminist activism. Following the sexual assault allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Twitter user and actor Alyssa Milano prompted Twitter users to come forth with experience of sexual harassment using the #MeToo tweet (Gieseler, 2019). The first tweet was posted on October 15th 2017 and within ten days the hashtag was used in over 1.7 million tweets (Gieseler, 2019). The success of the #MeToo movement exemplifies the success of Twitter’s tools that mobilise social change and discourse. Changing the way that activist interact, Twitter transports the success of real-life activism to the online arena.

Summary

The affordances of the Twitter platform have significantly altered the way we navigate our everyday life. Unlike traditional forms of media, Twitter’s succinct outlet of information has elevated social media sites to the status of a trustworthy news outlet. As a student, Twitter has intrinsically acted as more than simply  a social media site. Interdependent to platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, Twitter content allows for the spread of catchy information in a way that other platforms strive for. Twitter’s unwavering economic success is evidence of a effective business model which prioritises the user experience. Whilst recognising the flaws inherent to the platform which enable the spread of hate speech and fake news, Twitter has demonstrated proactive solutions. Contrasting the negative content produced by Twitter users, Twitter has proven to be a successful actor of social change movements such as the #MeToo movement. Ultimately afforded by the platform’s features; hashtags, trending tweets and character limiting, Twitter transcends perceptions of a traditional social media site.

Reference List

Caplan, L. (2017). Should Facebook and Twitter Be Regulated Under the First Amendment? Retrieved from: https://www.wired.com/story/should-facebook-and-twitter-be-regulated-under-the-first-amendment/

Guttmann, A. (2020). Leading U.S. Twitter advertisers in Q1 2020, by Impressions. Retrieved from Statista site: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1094351/us-twitter-advertisers-ranked-by-impressions/#:~:text=In%20a%20Q1%202020%20study,accumulated%20approximately%202.57%20billion%20impressions.

Fernández, A. M. (2017). Platformed racism: the mediation and circulation of an Australian race-based controversy on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Information, Communication & Society, 20:6, 930-946, DOI: 10.1080/1369118X.2017.1293130

Gieseler, C. (2019). The voices of #metoo : From grassroots activism to a viral roar. [ProQuest Ebook Central]. Retrieved from: https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy2.library.usyd.edu.au

Hootsuite. (2020). Digital 2020. Retrieved from: https://hootsuite.com/resources/digital-2020

Humphreys, L., Gill, P., Krishnamurthy, B., Newbury, E. (2013). Historicizing New Media: A Content Analysis of Twitter. Journal of Communication, 63(3), 413–431. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcom.12030

Kelty, C. M. (2014) The Fog of Freedom. In T. Gillespie, P. J. Boczkowski and K. A. Foot (Eds.) Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society. (Pp. 196-220.) MIT Press.

Mamic, L. (2013). How the Larger Corporations Engage with Stakeholders through Twitter. International Journal of Market Research, 55(6), 851–872. https://doi.org/10.2501/IJMR-2013-070

#MeToo shows Twitter at its best raises transparency: Jack Dorsey, CEO. (2018, November 15). Economic Times. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A562174263/STND?u=usyd&sid=STND&xid=3f17d64f

Marwick, A., Boyd, D. (2011). I tweet honestly, I tweet passionately: Twitter users, context collapse, and the imagined audience. New Media & Society, 13(1), 114–133. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444810365313

Murthy, Dhirag. (2011) Twitter: MIcrophone for the Masses? Media, Culture & Society, 33(5), 779-789. DOI: 10.1177/0163443711404744

Ott, B., & Dickinson, G. (2019). The twitter presidency : Donald J. Trump and the politics of white rage . Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9780429054259

Reiff, N. (2020). Top 5 Twitter Shareholders. Retrieved from: https://www.investopedia.com/articles/insights/060916/top-3-twitter-shareholders-twtr.asp

Simon, H. A. (1971). Designing Organizations for an Information Rich World. In M. Greenberger (Ed.) Computers, Communications, and the Public Interest. (pp. 40 – 41) Baltimore, MD. The John Hopkins Press.

Techonomy. (2012). Jack Dorsey on Twitter’s Business Model

. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MDO8954hOcY

 

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About Elloura Srivastava 3 Articles
I am a second year student studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Art History and Digital Cultures.