I was recently interviewed by CNN about how Twitter is shaping the world. Of course the newscast was only able to use a small portion of the entire interview but the topic is interesting enough that I thought I would share my thoughts on this important subject.
Despite the gloomy projections of analysts and the cries of the purists who long for the “old days” on Twitter, this is a media channel that has profoundly changed our world … and continues to do so.
1. Re-defining news
Largely due to the public, real-time nature of Twitter, the news cycle is no longer a day or even an hour. It’s immediate. Today, news breaks on Twitter.
Twitter has re-defined what it means to be a journalist. Who can ever forget the first images that emerged from the Hudson River plane crash or any number of natural disasters around the world. Most of the time, even mainstream news channels are carrying photos posted on Twitter as the news is happening. Today a journalist is anybody who is capturing an event when you are not … even from the surface of Mars.
2. The value of viral
I continue to be astounded when I read news accounts like this:
“Today, the Ukrainian government announced on Twitter that new military conflicts …”
“Through a tweet, ISIS claimed responsibility for the latest bombing in …”
“His candidacy for president of the United States was announced today through his Twitter account …”
Why do powerful people, celebrities, and even governments turn to Twitter at these critical events? Because there is no media channel on earth with the reach and opportunity for a viral response than Twitter. It is public, unfiltered, intimate, real-time, and rapid … the perfect channel for provocative news.
Of course sometimes even a casual tweet has unintended consequences. In fact, a viral tweet can ruin your life.
3. Power of the people
One of the most remarkable things about Twitter is that its greatest power comes from the people, rather than the company itself. While the functionality of other platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are tightly controlled by the executive office, the most popular use cases for Twitter never came from Twitter at all.
Twitter chats, the ubiquitous hashtag, and even the ability to shorten links to promote content were all user-generated ideas. The most creative and useful applications for Twitter will probably always come from the very people using the platform. One of the reasons Twitter has had some difficulty monetizing its service is that they really don’t own a lot of the value that has been created.
4. Hashtag activism
Twitter has the unique ability to rapidly unify a group of people, usually through an idea or cause expressed in a hashtag. There is no question that the Arab Spring movement was organized through hashtags. It unified a disparate group of strangers and propeled revolutionary activities that always seemed to be one step ahead of the government.
The ALS ice bucket challenge could have only happened through the free and public power of Twitter hashtags. A chilling New York Times article recently recountedhow ISIS is using Twitter as a primary recruiting tool.
Twitter has become a powerful channel for authority, digital diplomacy, statecraft … and scandal. It has become a new global engine for how we connect, discover, and learn.
5. Twitter is the wind
Politicians have always been criticized when their opinions seem to shift with the wind. In some respects, Twitter is now the wind.
Pollsters and strategists have become obsessed with real-time opinions and sentiment on Twitter. Twitter reactions are being used to create platforms, policies and products. Twitter reinforces groupthink — since everyone in the Washington D.C. bubble is following everyone else on Twitter; it’s an electronic echo chamber.
Sentiment analysis on Twitter has even determined what will happen next to characters on television shows.
Twitter, the hashtag, and tweets have become part of our culture, a thread that binds people in many places around the globe. Twitter is changing the world.
Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Bernard Goldbauch