Looking back over a decade of Twitter.
There is no question that in a relatively short amount of time, Twitter has come to dominate the media space, covering news to pop culture to politics. From celebrities and public figures who use Twitter compulsively to broadcast what’s on their minds, to Twitter-made celebrities who become famous because of the wit and humor contained in their 140 character missives, the social network is certainly the go-to place for those who want to hear and be heard.
The platform’s global popularity and high valuation—320 million users and a worth of approximately £22bn—make it even harder to believe that it’s just one decade old. It’s truly a reflection of the fast-changing digital world that a company and concept which didn’t exist ten years ago now is a major player in nearly every facet of public life.
However, as Twitter approaches its tenth birthday, that’s not to say that there aren’t some growing pains the tech giant needs to figure out if it’s going to retain its behemoth status. In 2015, a flurry of tech articles bemoaned the “decay of Twitter”, with Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic writing that “At some point early last year, the standard knock against Twitter—which had long ceased to be ‘I don’t want to know what someone’s eating for lunch’—became ‘I don’t want everyone to see what I have to say’”. In another much-shared piece on the blogging platform Medium, Umair Haque took it a step further by saying: “Twitter’s a cemetery. Populated by ghosts. I call them the ‘ists’. Journalists retweeting journalists…activists retweeting activists…economists retweeting economists.”.
With all this somewhat bad press, it’s clear that the company needs to enter its tenth year with renewed focus to address some of its long-held issues. Its quarterly earnings statements point to that as well, with the company reporting that it ran a loss of $132 million after taxes the last quarter of 2015. Unsurprisingly, its stock quickly fell 10% after that announcement.
According to critics and many disillusioned former users, one of the major issues that Twitter needs to address is abuse. Critics say the site does little to crack down on the many accounts that spew hate speech, violence and threats at users. This is especially true for women and public figures who experience this kind of malicious treatment in disproportionate amounts. According to The Guardian, in 2015 “Labour MP Stella Creasy received rape threats from a man who was eventually jailed, while Sara Payne, the mother of murdered schoolgirl Sarah, closed her account after receiving abuse.”.
It’s clear that if the company wants to maintain its reputation as a responsible company and not be a site people associate with malice, cracking down on users who abuse its platform is going to have to become a focus. The company has stated publicly that they plan to do this, by encouraging users to report, block and public name their abusers and trolls and by shutting down accounts more liberally.
Another big issue that Twitter faces is one of “noise”. Critics say it’s becoming harder and harder to see what you actually want on Twitter because it’s open to so many people who are circulating automated or worthless content. In addition, once sponsored and promoted Tweets begin to clog up the feeds of users, they begin to feel like they’re being advertised to, rather than having a conversation they’ve opted into. This is perhaps the biggest existential issue Twitter has to face: in the absence of these paid-for Tweets, is there any alternative revenue model the company can use?
One thing is for sure: the world of online communication moves quickly, and as Twitter approaches its tenth birthday, there will no doubt be a slew of newer, slicker and more current ideas and startups out to replace it. Only time will tell if the company can fix its problems to stay relevant or fade into the background.
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