SO, TWITTER HAS ENCOUNTERED SOME TURBULENCE, and not for the first time. The company’s quarterly earnings report sent its stock price circling downwards. But it’s even worse than that, as former users in significant numbers abandon what had once been a popular platform for quick and incisive communication in favour of more pleasing options such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Michelle Fleury, BBC business reporter, suggested yesterday that Twitter execs consider how Wall Street sees them. Twitter’s inability to add significant numbers of new users has got investors thinking that the company’s best days might have passed. Twitter let go 8% of its workforce in an effort to appease investors, but unless new users come aboard quickly, Twitter, once the darling of the social media set, might still be perceived as a dying force.
Another BBC reporter, Dave Lee, challenged Twitter leaders to view themselves as the techies in Silicon Valley see them. Despite having a clearly recognizable brand known by millions worldwide, fewer and fewer of those aware of Twitter are signing up and getting involved. A big part of the reason, Lee suggests, is that Twitter is bringing new tools and innovations too slowly to keep people interested and to attract new users.
But then there’s the third group, and they are the biggie. Along with investors and the tech industry, there is the general public – all those citizens who initially took to Twitter to create a new generation of engagers. Yes, a good number of them are intrigued by other options and moving on to different platforms, but the real root of Twitter’s decline lies elsewhere.
People initially took to Twitter because it provided them a fast and easy way to speak their minds. Yet by creating a generation of users that focused more on giving an opinion before even endeavouring to understand issues more deeply, Twitter became a platform for abuse, leaving us separated from one another in ways we can’t fully fathom. The organization’s very openness resulted in people closing it down on their personal screens. More frequently than anything else, it is this complaint that is heard from those who have moved on from the app.
Twitter’s difficulties roughly coincide with the online comments that so quickly came to define the life of newspapers. Understaffed and under-resourced, most papers left the field open to anyone desiring to comment. It quickly went from a sphere of ideas to a swamp of intolerance and bigotry. Readers no longer had the patience to locate the more responsible comments because of the carnage wrought by the abusers. The engager’s field of dreams became a war zone. Faced with increasing risks of liability, individual papers, and even entire syndicates, began the process of shutting down the online comment sections before they lost support altogether.
Twitter is approaching that same moment with destiny. Instead of becoming the theatre for the wisdom of citizens, it quickly became the weapon of choice for the bigots, trolls, self-made critics, and stalkers. People can still spot the value of Twitter but are growing increasingly impatient with the sewage that goes along with it.
Twitter was to become the fulsome dream of future generations, the great online citizen’s assembly, a responsive engagement tool, a fundamental necessity for start-ups, and a generator of new ideas. But, as with any business, once the abusers reach a critical level of harassment, customers stop coming back.
So, yes, Twitter has to address the concerns of Wall Street and of Silicon Valley, but its greatest challenge lies on Main Street, from where the majority of its users emerged and to where it must ultimately return if it is to survive. It is a street where human decency and respectability season the diverging opinions of the tweeters. The less Twitter respects that reality, the more rapid will be its decline. It is increasingly becoming the favoured venue for short tempers, hurled insults, even creepy behavior.
And yet millions of us still yearn to explore the possibilities of Twitter. All that we ask is that the company enact policies that permit us to journey on its massive potential in security, trust, and at least a modicum of respect. Make no mistake about it, Twitter can still be a preferred tool for those seeking to build a more open and progressive world, but it is rapidly becoming the poster child for the deeper, more troubling waters now emerging in social media. Opinions and debates are important to our future, but not when couched in insults, lies, deceits, and, yes, borderline criminal behavior. The best way those of us who appreciate Twitter can be of service is to demand the same brand of conduct that we would wish to see in a private home, an open street, an assembly hall, or a Parliament. In a world that has become too sinister, we require a Twitter than can enable us to speak decently and respectfully again.