I’ve read a lot this week about the fact that Twitter is struggling as a business. It seems absurd that a company as big as twitter is failing. Lets face it, it seems to have the perfect formula. It’s self-promoting, it’s one of the most popular social networks worldwide and people use it for both private and business purposes.
But for whatever reason, we are falling out of love with it. The number of users is plateauing and the company’s profits are through the floor. They admit that they’re currently trying to rescue it – reshaping it, changing it and improving the user experience. But are they?
One of the main issues with Twitter is that there is no way to stop people from using it to be unkind. This is the sort of unkindness that you have probably heard referred to as trolling or online bullying. Picking up on somebody’s vulnerabilities and flouting them, hounding them until they can take no more. And knowing that you are anonymous and Twitter can do nothing about it.
Then, there’s the news element of it. It’s brilliant – something happens and anyone can be the newsreader. Just send a tweet, tell everyone what’s going on, keep them up to date! But sometimes, someone shares too much too soon. As many people know, I was a victim of this last year and it’s heartbreaking.
In my case, it was a newspaper that tweeted a photograph with the headline, “SERIOUS road traffic collision” – and a photograph of my husband’s motorbike leaning against a hedge, surrounded by emergency services vehicles. When I read that, I thought he was dead.
Several weeks later, the local newspaper in question emailed me about the incident. They didn’t say sorry. They said that the police had given them the photo. They said that I couldn’t have identified my husband’s bike and that it was standard procedure to capitalise the first word of the headline. They didn’t say they were sorry – because they weren’t.
And that’s the thing with Twitter. Its users don’t connect on a human level. They don’t meet, they don’t talk in any more depth than you can go into in 140 characters. And therefore, they don’t care.
The anonymous individuals hiding behind their keyboards and their computer screens don’t realise the impact they have on real human beings. They don’t think that their choice of words when picking on someone could make them so unhappy that they take their own life.
The newspapers, journalists and online publications that thrive on sharing the latest stories as and when they happen don’t realise the impact of sharing too much information. They don’t realise, because Twitter makes it so easy to forget that your tweets will be read by human beings with families and feelings.
Those 140 characters are an incredibly useful tool for keeping in touch, chatting briefly to acquaintances and even making the odd friend here and there. They can be 140 characters of promotion, emotion, soul-searching or asking for help.
Or they can be 140 characters of hatred towards an individual who you have never even met. It might only be 140 characters but that’s all it takes to reach into someone’s heart and tear it into thousands of tiny pieces in a way that ensures they will never be quite the same again.
Twitter is a lifeline. It allows people to connect, promote good causes, generate public interest, share news as it happens and express themselves. It is fun, useful, exciting and dynamic and if it doesn’t manage to regain momentum and make people love it again, I will miss it.
But please Twitter, if you do just one thing – restore some sort of human connection in those 140 characters. Remind us of the impact we could have on another individual every single time we type. It’s important.